Pallister blasted for rejecting Hydro deal with MMF

The Brian Pallister government has its head in the sand if it thinks it can back out of a Hydro deal, the lawyer for the Manitoba Metis Federation says.

Métis federation promises to take province to court if it cancels deal it reached with Manitoba Hydro

Manitoba Metis Federation president David Chartrand compares Premier Brian Pallister to U.S. President Donald Trump. (CBC)

The Brian Pallister government has its head in the sand if it thinks it can back out of a Hydro deal, the lawyer for the Manitoba Metis Federation says.

In another development, MMF president David Chartrand, in a statement sent to media on Thursday, said "Premier Pallister's antics and storytelling this week have made [U.S. President] Donald Trump look like a pillar of stability and truth."

Lawyer Jason Madden says the agreement between Hydro and the MMF is consistent with the way Crown agencies and governments deal with Indigenous people during this era of reconciliation.

"Manitoba cannot be like an ostrich with its head in the sand and ignore court cases, ignore its own negotiated agreements that it has signed with the Manitoba Métis Federation and just go down a path that is dishonourable," he said.

The absurdity of this man's tall tales should be apparent to all. Now, who knows what the premier's story will be today?- MMF president David Chartrand

"The idea that political masters could interfere at the 11th hour and attempt to pull the rug out from under an Indigenous peoples is just unconscionable. It's quite shocking."

Madden says as far as he's concerned, the deal between Hydro and the MMF stands and if the province tries to cancel the agreement the federation will take the government to court.

"I think that it will set back reconciliation in the province of Manitoba for the duration of this government if they go ahead and proceed with pulling the rug out from under an Indigenous people who have honourably negotiated with the Hydro board," he said.

Deal struck in 2014

The MMF, Manitoba Hydro and the then-NDP provincial government originally signed an agreement in 2014 that set out processes to fix outstanding issues surrounding the construction projects and related effects to Indigenous rights and claims. It noted that more agreements would be made in future for projects to come. 

In 2017, the Hydro board and MMF negotiated a subsequent deal regarding transmission projects for about $67 million — just over $1 million a year over the duration of the deal. That figure includes a $37-million lump sum payment to be used to "improve the overall quality of life for the Metis people." 

It went further than the 2014 agreement, stating the MMF would not oppose projects currently underway or future domestic transmission lines less than 250 kilometres in length for up to 50 years.

The federation would have to support Manitoba Hydro licence applications and "agree not to appeal or contest any approvals or licences issued," according to a copy of the agreement obtained by CBC News. 

Premier Brian Pallister won't agree to a 50-year deal arranged between the MMF and Manitoba Hydro. (Trevor Brine/CBC)

Chartrand says the agreement would save taxpayers millions by avoiding unnecessary litigation and delays over major Hydro projects. However, Pallister has said the province won't agree to the deal.

"It has implications for much more than Manitoba Hydro when you start making payments to certain groups to not participate, and processes and things like that," he said on Thursday, calling the payment "persuasion money."

He also said the deal was halted to protect the rights of future generations of Métis to seek regulatory reviews or question future projects.

Hydro board resigns

Hydro's board, with the exception of a Progressive Conservative MLA, resigned Wednesday citing a lack of meetings with Pallister about Hydro matter.

But Pallister quickly shot back, saying the real reason for the mass resignation was his opposition to the MMF-Hydro agreement.

Former Hydro board chair Sandy Riley says  that assertion is wrong.

"The fact that I can't have a conversation with the premier in a 15-month period, or whatever it is, is just unimaginable and very disturbing."

However, he maintained the deal with the MMF is a good one. Aside from long-term savings due to sidestepping legal challenges and paying out compensation, it also makes sense in light of recent court rulings that have supported ​Métis rights, he says.

In 2016, the Supreme Court of Canada ruled the country's 600,000 Métis  have many of the same rights as First Nations individuals, including the right to be consulted on Crown activities that may affect their rights or interests.

"The days of the Crown being able to deny Métis rights, deceive us and willfully break promises made to us Indigenous people — without legal consequences — are over," Chartrand's statement on Thursday reads, reiterating Madden's promise to take the matter to court.

Métis want apology from premier

Chartrand is urging Pallister to read the province's Métis policy, which directs the government's relationship with the MMF to be "based on mutual respect, reciprocity, understanding, responsibility, sharing and transparency."

"The premier should take some time to read this policy, reflect on his recent actions and accusations and issue an apology to our Métis citizens. He should also issue an apology to all Manitobans," Chartrand wrote, also advising Pallister "to get his story straight."

"On Wednesday, the Premier insulted the Manitoba Métis community by referring to us as nothing more than 'special interest group' with no constitutional rights, traditional lands or interests that required the negotiated agreement we have with Manitoba Hydro," Chartrand said.

"Then on Thursday, the Premier said he couldn't agree to our deal because he was so concerned about the 'rights of unborn Métis children' being impacted after he denied Métis had any rights just 24 hours before.

"The absurdity of this man's tall tales should be apparent to all. Now, who knows what the premier's story will be today?"