Hydro board lacks expertise in engineering, finance, human resources, letter from chair says

The Manitoba NDP says a letter from the newly appointed chair of Manitoba Hydro shows the government is not addressing the problems at the Crown corporation.

Government has identified individuals with the skills the board says it needs: Crown services minister

Crown Services Minister Cliff Cullen said new board appointments will be announced in the next few weeks. (CBC)

The Manitoba NDP says a letter from the newly appointed chair of Manitoba Hydro shows the government is not addressing the problems at the Crown corporation.

The letter was sent to Crown Services Minister Cliff Cullen from current chair Marina James, and obtained by the NDP through a freedom of information request.

The letter said "we believe there are some specific gaps within the current board skill set, and that government and the [Manitoba Hydro board] would benefit from further appointments" in "priority areas," including finance, human resources and engineering.

The letter was sent on April 17, just weeks after the government appointed five new members following the resignation of all but one of the previous board members.

Cullen replied the same day, saying he would take the advice into consideration, but so far no further appointments have been made.

"This is the premier dropping the ball again when it comes to Hydro," said NDP Leader Wab Kinew.

"There was this huge example of mismanagement that caused the whole board to walk out earlier this year and then they rushed the appointment of more board members."

NDP Leader Wab Kinew says he's skeptical about Cullen's claim the government was planning to announce new appointments to the board. (CBC)

According to a letter signed by all nine outgoing board members to Cullen in March, the problem was the board couldn't get a meeting with the premier "to resolve a number of critical issues related to the finances and governance of Manitoba Hydro, including matters related to Hydro's efforts to further develop its relationships with Indigenous peoples."

Premier Brian Pallister said that accusation was not fair, and said the resignations were actually because the province wouldn't agree to a $67-million payment Hydro wanted to make to the Manitoba Metis Federation, spread over 50 years.

Candidates being vetted: Cullen

At the legislature on Thursday, Kinew raised James's April letter, asking why the government hadn't appointed any new members two months after receiving the board's request.

"It's a company that builds dams, that employs large numbers of Manitobans and that is responsible for large capital expenditures. The minister has been aware, the premier has been aware of these lack of skills on the board and have done nothing to address the issue."

Cullen replied that the government inherited a mess after 17 years of NDP mismanagement, but that "we will deliver what the Manitoba Hydro board has asked."

Speaking to reporters after question period, Cullen said the government planned to announce new board appointments within the next few weeks.

"That was a discussion that we had with the chair at the time and we said, 'Here's your six members [including Progressive Conservative MLA Cliff Graydon, who remained on the board] to get started. You will take some time to get the lay of the land over Manitoba Hydro, recognizing what the issues are, recognizing what additional skill sets you would need. Let us know what you think those skill sets will be,'" Cullen said.

In addition to James, the province appointed Michael Moore as vice-chair, as well as Lisa Meeches, Melanie McKague and Wade Linden to the board in March.

The government is in the process of vetting other candidates and has identified several individuals with the skills the board says it needs, Cullen said.

Kinew expressed doubt about Cullen's claim that the government was already planning to make new appointments to the board.

"Did they bring you an announcement of new Hydro board members?" he said to reporters.

"I think previously they had told you all that the new board was great and they were totally satisfied with the new board, and I think we've tried to raise the issue at some committees before and there was no indication there that they were going to add more board members."

On your mobile device, click here to read the letters.

With files from Sean Kavanagh