Southeast Manitoba landowners want investigation into Hydro deal with Métis federation
Southeast Stakeholders Coalition says Hydro using public money to reduce opposition to transmission project
A coalition of landowners wants the province to put a proposed Manitoba Hydro transmission line to Minnesota on hold and open an investigation, alleging that the recent controversy at the Crown corporation shows it misused public money to reduce opposition to the project.
Following last week's resignation of most of Manitoba Hydro's board of directors, the Southeast Stakeholders Coalition filed an application with the National Energy Board this week, asking it to halt public hearings on the Manitoba-Minnesota Transmission Project that were scheduled to start this June.
"Manitoba Hydro is currently embroiled in an emerging scandal involving the use of taxpayer funds to make payments to opponents of the MMTP," says the statement, which is dated March 26, 2018.
The Manitoba-Minnesota line is part of the final leg of the Bipole III transmission project, which is meant to bring electricity from generating stations in northern Manitoba down to the south and ultimately over the Canada-U.S. border.
The coalition says the future of the project is uncertain after controversy erupted last week over a deal Hydro made to pay the Manitoba Metis Federation nearly $70 million over 50 years.
In exchange, the MMF agreed not to oppose current projects — barring any material changes — or future domestic transmission lines less than 250 kilometres in length for up to 50 years.
Kevin Toyne, a lawyer for the landowners coalition, said some individual property owners along the proposed route who opposed the project have accepted payments from Hydro.
"The regulatory process should be about whether or not a project meets certain conditions and criteria, not whether the applicant has sufficient resources to give money to everybody who's opposed to the route so that they're no longer opposed," Toyne said.
Last week, Premier Brian Pallister characterized the agreement as "persuasion money" and said his government's opposition to it is what caused nine of the 10 members of Manitoba Hydro's board of directors to resign.
A new board was appointed on Friday. The coalition says it's unclear if the new board or the provincial government still want the transmission project to go ahead.
"So until it's clear that Hydro actually can proceed with this project, and the province will allow it to do so, the federal government and the National Energy Board shouldn't be wasting public resources on it," Toyne said.
The coalition also sent letters to Minister of Crown Services Cliff Cullen and Minister of Sustainable Development Rochelle Squires, asking them not to make any licensing decisions on the Manitoba-Minnesota project "until Manitoba Hydro's improper conduct had been fully investigated and the extent to which taxpayer funds have been used to improperly obtain regulatory approvals for the MMTP is known," the application statement says.
A spokesperson for the Manitoba government said it wouldn't comment because the matter is before the energy board.
NEB spokesperson Marc Drolet said the board has received the coalition's application and will be reviewing in the coming days.
Impact and benefit agreements
Legal counsel for the Manitoba Metis Federation has said the deal with Hydro is what's known as an impact and benefit agreement, which are designed to help develop projects in partnership with Indigenous people involving land rights and to address potential impacts ahead of time.
Sagkeeng First Nation has intervenor status in the Manitoba-Minnesota Transmission Project public hearings. Kate Kempton, a lawyer representing the First Nation, said she isn't familiar with the content of Hydro's deal with the Métis federation, but said impact and benefit agreements are common in other jurisdictions across Canada to provide compensation and revenue sharing to affected First Nations.
She said from the beginning, Hydro should have provided funding to bring in experts to determine what an equitable revenue-sharing agreement would look like.
Although Kempton said her clients don't have a problem with delaying the hearings until the matter of the MMF deal is resolved, she thinks the issue should be reframed.
"If any company like Manitoba Hydro does not have enough financial resources, in respect of a particular project like MMTP, to provide adequate compensation and revenue sharing to affected Indigenous people … then this project is not financially viable, full stop," she said.
The Canadian Association of Energy and Pipeline Landowner Associations also has intervenor status in the hearings. CEO Dave Core said Pallister, while in opposition, promised to stand up for landowners by cancelling the Bipole III project, which began under the previous NDP government. Core said since taking office, however, the premier has stopped communicating.
"We believe Mr. Pallister is being disingenuous on the whole Métis federation aspect of this: the premier would not be in a position to be asked for 'persuasion money,' as he puts it, if he had kept his promise and cancelled the project in the first place," Core wrote in an email.
With files from Aidan Geary