Manitoba

Province accused of withholding details on Manitoba Hydro contracts with Sask.

Manitoba's premier denies his government downplayed a pair of multibillion-dollar hydroelectricity contracts with Saskatchewan, which were minimally acknowledged in a recently released report on the fiscal management of the province's Crown hydro corporation.

Government dismisses accusation, says deals were publicized, investigation focused on past cost overruns

NDP Leader Wab Kinew accused Manitoba's premier of the 'coverup of the century' in relation to a pair of Manitoba Hydro contracts with Saskatchewan, which were barely mentioned in a recent government-commissioned Hydro report by former Saskatchewan premier Brad Wall. (John Woods/The Canadian Press)

Manitoba's premier denies his government downplayed a pair of multibillion-dollar hydroelectricity contracts with Saskatchewan, which were minimally acknowledged in a recently released report on the fiscal management of the province's Crown hydro corporation.

Brian Pallister rejected any suggestion Wednesday his government buried details on the contracts because it wanted to make Manitoba Hydro's financial picture appear bleaker than it is.

NDP Leader Wab Kinew accused Pallister of the "coverup of the century" in relation to the Saskatchewan contracts. The deals were barely mentioned in the provincial government-commissioned Hydro report completed by former Saskatchewan premier Brad Wall.

"I don't understand the accusation that's being made," Pallister said Wednesday. "I think it's a frivolous and false accusation," Pallister said.

The premier was responding to a Winnipeg Free Press story which said Wall's review of two Manitoba Hydro megaprojects failed to weigh the impact of the recent Saskatchewan power sales on the Crown corporation's financial health.

Wall's report featured only one direct reference to the deals, according to the Free Press, and only to acknowledge they had been completed.

An unnamed source in the Free Press report alleged the province "deliberately covered up" the contracts with Saskatchewan — one for 100 megawatts and a second for 215 megawatts — because it didn't serve the Progressive Conservative government's argument the Crown corporation was mismanaged by the former NDP government.

Wall's review found that failings in government oversight, an incomplete analysis of projects and political stubbornness resulted in massive cost overruns that plagued the Keeysak generating station and Bipole III transmission line projects.

The contracts selling power to Saskatchewan are expected to provide at least $5 billion in revenue over the next 30 years, the Winnipeg Free Press said.

Pallister said the power sales weren't hidden. 

At one point in a press conference Wall gave, he referred to federal funding for one deal in which Manitoba is selling power to Saskatchewan.

The province provided CBC News with two press releases, which referenced one of the projects — a new transmission line from south of Birtle, Man., toward the provincial border at Tantallon, Sask. — but had no dollar value attached to the project.

Investigation focused on past: Pallister

Pallister said Wall's mandate was to investigate past wrongs, which he said were partially to blame for Manitoba Hydro's debt tripling to $23 billion, and ensuring those mistakes do not happen again.

Wall also wrote in the introduction of his review he attempted to "quantify the impact of the Bipole III and Keeyask projects on Manitoba Hydro's financial health and more importantly, on the present and future customers of Manitoba Hydro."

After question period at the Manitoba Legislature on Wednesday, the Opposition NDP leader accused the province, and Wall's report, of concealing two important contracts.

"The whole political story that Mr. Pallister has been telling about Hydro for the past number of years is undermined once you have the crucial piece of information that there was $5 billion more in export sales," Kinew said.

That also undermines the government's argument 2,300 Manitoba Hydro workers currently on strike should accept a two-year wage freeze.

"If you're negotiating a deal with Hydro right now and Hydro didn't tell you they had $5 billion more in revenue, you'd feel like that's a coverup," Kinew said.

Pallister maintained that Hydro continues to face financial challenges. He said the province would need eight or nine contracts similar to those with Saskatchewan just to cover the interest on the Keeysak and Bipole III projects. 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Ian Froese

Provincial Affairs Reporter

Ian Froese covers provincial politics and its impact for CBC Manitoba. He previously reported on a bit of everything for newspapers. You can reach him at ian.froese@cbc.ca.

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