Pallister using 'race card tactics' over agreement with Manitoba Hydro: Manitoba Metis Federation

The Manitoba Métis Federation is accusing Manitoba's premier of using "race card tactics" over their multimillion-dollar agreement with Manitoba Hydro.

David Chartrand raps premier's 'persuasion money' claim over multimillion-dollar deal

Manitoba Metis Federation president David Chartrand says he will not allow the work of the former Hydro board to be lost through what he calls "political interference." Chartrand accuses Premier Pallister of using "race card" tactics against Indigenous people to divide Manitobans. 1:41

The Manitoba Métis Federation is accusing Manitoba's premier of using "race card tactics" over their multimillion-dollar agreement with Manitoba Hydro — and the federation's president is suggesting that perhaps the premier should resign.

Manitoba Hydro's entire board, with the exception of a Progressive Conservative MLA, resigned Wednesday citing a lack of meetings with Premier Brian Pallister.

But Pallister shot back, saying the real reason for the mass resignation was a $70-million deal the board made with the MMF to "smooth the process" over the Manitoba-Minnesota transmission line — a deal the premier said the government would not agree to.

Pallister called the agreement "persuasion money."

"Last year Premier Pallister played the 'race card' against Indigenous hunters,"  MMF president David Chartrand in a statement sent to media Wednesday afternoon.

"Today, he continues his divisive politics by trying to make the resignation of Manitoba Hydro's board about a negotiated agreement with the Manitoba ​Métis community."

Chartrand said the MMF and the Manitoba Hydro board reached an agreement that "respects Métis rights" and saved taxpayers millions by avoiding unnecessary litigation and delays over major Hydro projects.

"Now … Premier Pallister will likely cost all Manitobans, including Manitoba Métis citizens who pay hundreds of millions in taxes to the province each year, triple that in project delays, litigation and damages."

The MMF, Manitoba Hydro and the provincial government signed an agreement in 2014 that set out processes to fix outstanding issues over Bipole III and the Manitoba-Minnesota transmission line between the three parties, Chartrand said. 

These nine people, who … hold some very powerful positions in our province, that they were trying to use hush money, persuasion money, to buy the silence of the Métis? That is a massive insult.- David Chartrand

Through the agreement, the MMF and Hydro managed to reach a payment figure last July, he said.​ That figure is about $67 million — just over $1 million a year for 50 years, he told CBC.

"For the premier to use that language — 'persuasion money' — that's really unethical," Chartrand said.

"These nine people, who have struck such high-standing positions in this province and hold some very powerful positions in our province, that they were trying to use hush money, persuasion money to buy the silence of the Métis? That is a massive insult."

In an emailed statement, Manitoba Hydro spokesperson Scott Powell confirmed that a "long-term, 50-year agreement designed to address their asserted Indigenous rights and claims related to impacts from various transmission projects — both past and future" was in the works with the MMF. 

The agreement builds upon the previous Turning the Page Agreement between the province, Hydro and the MMF, he said. 

But Powell said "to the extent that there was a disagreement between the government and the board over this, that is between them and it would be inappropriate for the corporation's management to comment."

Premier Brian Pallister told media Wednesday he believes the board resigned because the province won't agree to a $70 million payment to the Manitoba Metis Federation to smooth the process on the Minnesota-Manitoba transmission line. 1:04

Chartrand's comments were on the mark, said NDP Leader Wab Kinew.

"The premier is trying to undermine those agreements, cast them in a negative light with some sort of connotation about this being, perhaps, ill-gotten in some way — which is absolutely, categorically incorrect," Kinew said.

The premier might have opened the province up to a legal challenge, Chartran added. 

"He's undermined, potentially, the process which would have fulfilled the government's discharging of its obligation to consult and accommodate with Indigenous groups. The agreement should be honoured."

Sheila North, grand chief of Manitoba Keewatinowi Okimakanak, says the blowup highlights long-standing issues within the relationship between Manitoba Hydro and the province's Indigenous people.

Shesays  much of the energy generated by Hydro comes from MKO territory, "and we have yet to see the proper resource equity sharing agreements and relationship that Indigenous people in the North deserve."

Sharing in the the benefits of resource development is important for Indigenous groups who want to be self-reliant, North says .

"The fact is Indigenous people and First Nations do have the right to the resources and lands in this province, in this country, so that has to be dealt with at some point," she said.

"We have to find a way to make sure that the agreements with Indigenous peoples are proper and that we move that way, because I think we're going to keep seeing these kinds of problems and stall tactics if we don't."

'Poor choice of language'

Manitoba political science professor Paul Thomas says Pallister used a "very poor choice of language" in blaming the resignations on a payment to the MMF.

"To describe the MMF as a special interest group, like the (Manitoba) Heavy Construction Association or some other lobbying organization, is incorrect," he said.

"The Metis community has a historical relationship with the Government of Manitoba. It has rights that have been identified by the courts and one of those rights is to be consulted on major resource development projects like a Hydro transmission line."

Thomas says the board made an "informed, calculated, prudent" judgment that it would be better to spend the money to "ease the development" on the transmission line rather than spend "decades in court" plus the cost of lawyers.

"I think the premier got himself in deeper trouble because he chose that sort of language," Thomas said.

"That kind of language may work for his political base … but that's not what our constitution says and that's not what the courts have declared."

Different payment

Crown Services Minister Cliff Cullen said the payment is different than past agreements. 

"This was basically a proposal to, I'd say, negate positive input by Manitoba Metis Federation on specific projects. That doesn't preclude them input [on] other projects down the road and certainly this would have ramifications for other future developments," said Cullen. 

"Our job as government is to make sure Crown corporations, or agencies or boards, have the same policies and priorities [as] all of government, across government. And we were afraid that this set a precedent for both Crown corporations and government."

When asked if he agreed the payment is persuasion money, Cullen responded "It could be deemed that way."

Cullen also said the government believes the agreement is not legally binding and there will be no delays to the transmission line project.

The agreement included an upfront payment and then an annual payment, Cullen confirmed. 

"Clearly we are going through the rate application request for increase, so from our perspective, we as a government have to stand up for Manitoba taxpayers and ratepayers, and we just felt this was not in the best interest of Manitoba ratepayers or taxpayers."

The agreement is a good one for taxpayers, said Chartrand.

"You know this is a good deal, premier, you know this is a damn good deal," he said of the roughly $1 million yearly in exchange for Métis land, and support for smaller Hydro projects as well as the Manitoba-Minnesota transmission line. 

"Twenty-one years I've been president. I've earned my name and I've earned my reputation. That we would be doing some sort of bagged money in a back room, that is unbelievable, uncharacteristic of any premier in our province, and maybe you should look in the mirror.

"Maybe he should resign."

With files from Sean Kavanagh, Austin Grabish and Karen Pauls