North End candidates spar over Manitoba Hydro megaprojects at St. John's debate

At a debate Thursday night in the constituency of St. John’s, the three main party candidates took on Manitoba Hydro and cost overruns associated with the Bipole III transmission line project.

NDP's Nahanni Fontaine, Liberal's Noel Bernier and PC's Barbara Judt attended Thursday debate

St. John's candidates Nahanni Fontaine (NDP), Noel Bernier (Manitoba Liberal) and Barbara Judt (Progressive Conservative) attend Thursday's debate. (CBC)

At a debate Thursday night in the constituency of St. John's, the three main party candidates took on Manitoba Hydro and cost overruns associated with the Bipole III transmission line project.

Liberal candidate Noel Bernier is the restaurant entrepreneur behind Prairie 360. (CBC)
NDP candidate Nahanni Fontaine, Progressive Conservative candidate Barbara Judt and Manitoba Liberal candidate Noel Bernier presented differing views on how their parties would manage the province's energy file.

Bernier said under a Liberal government Manitoba would likely stay the course on the Bipole III project because much of it has already been built. The Liberals would instead focus on conducting a review of Manitoba Hydro and its board to restore public confidence in the crown corporation, he said.

Bernier called Manitoba Hydro a "crown jewel" but it will not continue to be one "if we let it get into any more trouble."

"To preserve our crown corporations we need to make sure the public trusts them," Bernier said.

The Progressive Conservatives would closely examine the Bipole III project if the party takes power in April, said Judt.

"There's a report out there. We've been repeatedly [asked] for it to be released to us so that we can have a look at it. And so far we have not had any success," she said.

Barbara Judt is the CEO of Osborne House, which she currently runs as a phone line from her home. (CBC)
Judt said under a PC government all Manitoba Hydro projects would be put out to tender.

Earlier this month CBC reported an $85 million Hydro construction contract associated with Bipole III was not put out for competitive bidding.

"All projects will be tendered out and make it fair for a competition process," she said.

Judt, who runs the Osborne House telephone resource line out of her home, arranging shelter for victims of violence, added now may not be the time to fund large multi-billion-dollar Hydro projects given the financial constraints facing Manitoba and the level of poverty in the province.

"I have an issue where there's significant cost overruns happening with these big megaprojects and yet we have kids who go to bed at night … hungry," she said. "Maybe it's time to divvy up the pie a bit differently."

The NDP's Nahanni Fontaine defended her party's management of energy policy and Manitoba Hydro.

All projects undertaken by Manitoba Hydro are done in "consultation with stakeholders," she said.

"I question the motives for trying to make the board look like it's doing something suspicious and that it's highly politicized," said Fontaine to Bernier's earlier comments.

The NDP's Nahanni Fontaine is a long-time activist and served as a Manitoba government special advisor on aboriginal women's issues. (CBC)
She said Manitoba Hydro's board is a "completely independent process."

She added large Hydro projects bring jobs to some of the most isolated parts of the province and "overall help Manitoba in the long run when we're selling that energy."

Manitoba Hydro is spending about $20 billion over the coming 10 years. The most significant projects include Bipole III at a cost of $4.6 billion, the Keeyask generating station at $6.5 billion, maintenance of existing facilities at $5.9 billion, and energy efficiency programs at $700 million

The North End constituency of St. John's has been represented by a New Democrat in the legislature for more than 50 years.


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