Political foes are squaring off on the privatization of Manitoba Hydro in the upcoming provincial election, even though no party has pledged to sell off the Crown corporation. 

NDP Leader Greg Selinger told a room full of NDP candidates gathered at the University of Winnipeg Tuesday that Progressive Conservative Leader Hugh McFadyen would sell the utility if elected. 

"In 1995, they said they wouldn't privatize the telephone system," he said. "They got elected, and they privatized it within two years. We have to remember they say one thing before an election, and do another thing after."

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The Conservatives reject NDP charges that they will sell Manitoba Hydro. (CBC)

But McFadyen has repeatedly said that a Conservative government  won't sell the Crown corporation.

"And I'll never sell Manitoba Hydro," he said in a PC ad.

Liberal leader Jon Gerrard also said he would never contemplate selling Hydro, and like the NDP, suggested the Tories would.

No evidence of Tory sales plan

CBC can no find public record, Hansard document, or quote suggesting McFadyen has ever been open to privatizing Hydro.  Likewise, the NDP could not provide such evidence when asked to do so Tuesday.

However, McFadyen was ex-premier Gary Filmon's chief of staff and director of policy when the governing Conservatives privatized MTS in the 1990s.

Also, McFadyen's own published biography shows he provided "strategic council" to former Ontario premier Mike Harris, the Conservative who led a failed campaign to privatize Hydro One, the government-owned hydro transmission company in Ontario.

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Former premier Gary Filmon (left) and Hugh McFadyen answer questions in 1996 about the privatization of the Manitoba telephone system. (CBC)

The PC party said McFadyen did advise the Ontario government when he worked for the consulting firm Navigator, but this does not amount to an admission that McFadyen has Hydro privatization leanings.

"We are not disputing biographical information, but the NDP are being desperate.  It's 2011, and we're in Manitoba, not Ontario.  We have been clear — a McFadyen government will protect Manitoba Hydro," said PC party communications director Greg Burch.

Pollster Christopher Adams, of Probe Research said the NDP can not link McFadyen directly with Hydro's privatization.

"I don't think they'll find a smoking gun,  that is, something that McFadyen has said in the past."

Avoiding BiPole

He said the NDP's "keep hydro public" messaging is designed to keep voters from talking about the controversial BiPole III hydro transmission line that the NDP wants to build.

That western route will cost taxpayers more than $1 billion more than an alternative line down the east side of Lake Winnipeg that the PC party prefers.

"This attack by the NDP is to try to defuse the gains that the Conservatives will make on the issue of the BiPole."

However, McFadyen did tell reporters in 2006 that he was open to the private sector helping finance new hydro-electric dams. 

"We would look at involving the private sector to finance hydro projects, much the way they do in B.C. and Ontario and other provinces," McFadyen told the Canadian Press on Nov.12, 2006.

That is not a novel idea in Manitoba. The NDP is using private investment from Nisichawayasihk Cree Nation in northern Manitoba to help fund the $1.3 billion Wuskwatim power dam.