Province, Manitoba Métis Federation to 'reset' relationship

The Manitoba Métis Federation says the provincial government and Manitoba Hydro have two weeks to come up with a deal to replace the one killed by Premier Brian Pallister before following through on their threat to take legal action.

Cooling-off period follows dispute over meeting that was nearly cancelled

Manitoba Metis Federation president David Chartrand, seen speaking with reporters on Wednesday, says the federation will hold off on legal action for two weeks over the cancellation of an agreement with Manitoba Hydro. (Bert Savard/CBC)

They pointed fingers at each other over who pulled the plug on a meeting — and then they met.

On Thursday, Crown Services Minster Cliff Cullen said the Manitoba Métis Federation had cancelled a scheduled meeting with himself and Kelvin Shepherd, the president of Manitoba Hydro. That was met with an angry response from MMF president David Chartrand, who said he did no such thing.

On Friday, after the two sides agreed to go ahead with the meeting, Chartrand said he and Cullen decided on a "reset" on the relationship and set a two-week deadline to work something out.

Chartrand met with Cullen alone. Hydro's president was not at the meeting, and Chartrand was not allowed to bring his legal council into the room.

After the meeting, Chartrand appeared optimistic something could be worked out.

"Mr. Cullen has asked for a couple of weeks to reset the button. He'll be meeting with Hydro to solve this issue and find a way to go back to cabinet to find a point where this matter can be resolved," Chartrand said.

Crown Service Minister Cliff Cullen met with David Chartrand on Friday. (CBC News)

Cullen agreed the word "reset" was appropriate, though he would not speculate on whether or how that means reworking the agreement the MMF has with Hydro. Cullen referred to the Turning the Page agreement already established between the MMF and Hydro as a framework for discussions over the next couple of weeks that all sides would work under.

"There is a dispute mechanism in there and we want to make sure we follow those rules within that agreement," Cullen said.

However, he characterized the contentious deal for compensation with the MMF as just a "proposal."

Legal plans on hold

The government and the federation are at odds over Premier Brian Pallister's decision in March to overrule a $57.5- million agreement between Hydro and the federation that would have forestalled opposition to several of the utility's infrastructure projects.

Pallister said it was the primary reason why nearly the entire board of directors of Hydro resigned last month.

He said the agreement would stifle the rights of unborn Métis children if they wanted to oppose Hydro projects in the future.

That assertion has been hotly contested by former Hydro board chair Sandy Riley.

The federation has maintained it still has a deal with Hydro, and it says if it doesn't there will be a lawsuit.

The Métis could oppose a transmission line Hydro plans to build to the U.S. border or flood channels the government wants to build from Lake St. Martin and Lake Manitoba.

Chartrand says a judicial review of the agreement he says he has with Hydro would be put on hold for the two week "reset" period in the hopes something can be worked out.

Otherwise, he says, his lawyers are ready to go to court.