Manitoba

New panel to sift through Manitoba Hydro megaprojects report recommendations

The province has convened a small panel to comb through recommended changes to Manitoba Hydro that stemmed from a review of megaprojects released earlier this year, headed up by former Saskatchewan premier Brad Wall.

Team to advise on Wall report's recommendations that looked into Keeyask, Bipole III

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)

The province has convened a small panel to comb through recommended changes to Manitoba Hydro that stemmed from a review of megaprojects released earlier this year, headed up by former Saskatchewan premier Brad Wall.

The government is formalizing a process to create a team dedicated to responding to 51 recommendations from the previously released Economic Review of Bipole III and Keeyask, or Wall report, said Infrastructure Minister Jeff Wharton.

The Wall report was scathing in its characterizations of the former NDP government's handling of both of those multibillion-dollar projects, including allegations the party politically interfered. Both had significant cost overruns.

"We know that the mistakes of the past cannot take place again," Wharton said during a Friday news conference. "There will be no billion-dollar surprises."

The NDP and Liberals both say the report is deeply flawed, and accused the government for commission such a report from a political ally in Wall.

The Wall report, released in February, asserted the previous NDP government failed to provide oversight and didn't complete the analysis of the pair of Hydro megaprojects. That led to huge cost overruns for the Keeyask generation project and Bipole III transmission project, the report suggested.

The new advisory panel will consist of Mark Podlasly, director of economic policy at the First Nations Major Projects Coalition, Tim Stanley, an engineer and president at Stratice Consulting, and Chris Gaue, an engineer and former president of project delivery with Infrastructure Ontario.

There is no discussion of selling off any part of Manitoba Hydro. I've been very clear: Manitoba Hydro is not for sale.- Infrastructure Minister Jeff Wharton

They'll focus on recommendations in the areas of procurement and contracting. That includes examining cost-reimbursable contracts and impact of project labour agreements, Wharton said.

The panel will analyze the decision that saw Bipole III rerouted, according to a government news release, and allegations from the report that the NDP failed to disclose ballooning cost estimates to the Public Utilities Board. The report states the NDP government spent $1.2 billion on the Keeyask and Bipole III projects prior to approval from the report.

Critics previously accused the report of being a smoke screen for driving up electricity and gas rates.

The NDP and others have suggested Bill 35, which stems from the report's recommendations and will wind its way through the legislative approval process this fall, would undermine the Public Utilities Board and let government dictate hydro rate increases without the independent body's approval.

In March, Official Opposition Leader Wab Kinew accused the province of burying details on two multibillion-dollar hydroelectricity deals with Saskatchewan, mentioned in brief in the report, to make Hydro's financial picture seem worse than it is.

Critics have also suggested the report left the door open to hiving off and selling elements of Hydro.

NDP MLA Adrien Sala (St. James) says Manitobans should be worried the province is moving forward with reviewing and implementing the Wall report recommendations. (CBC)

"This is very concerning for Manitoban families, because it signals that government intends on moving ahead with their plans to raise rates on Manitobans and to privatize more aspects of Hydro," Adrien Sala, MLA for St. James and the NDP's Manitoba Hydro critic, said Friday afternoon.

"Are they going to sell of Centra Gas? Are they going to sell of Manitoba Hydro Telecom? Are they going to sell off the customer service function of Hydro? ... Manitobans have a right to be really concerned."

The report specifically advised against privatizing Hydro on the whole, but it also said the Crown corporation could consider winding down some of its businesses that don't fit within its core mandate of supplying affordable hydroelectric power to Manitobans.

"There is no discussion of selling off any part of Manitoba Hydro," Wharton said Friday. "I've been very clear: Manitoba Hydro is not for sale."

Asked specifically about whether selling off Centra Gas Manitoba Inc., a natural gas division of Manitoba Hydro, was something the new panel would look at, Wharton was noncommittal.

"I don't want to prejudge the outcome at this point, we don't have enough information," he said.

Manitoba Liberal Leader Dougald Lamont (St. Boniface) thinks the report is "fundamentally flawed" and shouldn't be taken seriously.

"The government should not be paying people to tell them what they want to hear," he said.

Manitoba Liberal Leader Dougald Lamont slammed the Progressive Conservative and NDP governments for how both have managed Manitoba Hydro. (CBC)

And he didn't mince words about the NDP government's role.

"The NDP horribly mismanaged Hydro," Lamon said. "They interfered politically, they forced billions of extra dollars of costs and debt on to Hydro," Lamont said.

"The NDP have absolutely nothing to boast about when it comes to the management of Hydro, but neither do the PCs …. Things were bad under the NDP, they just got bad faster under the PCs."

The new panel will be chaired by Manitoba Crown Services and consist of members from a number of government departments.

It's expected the group will table a document in the fall of 2022 that will detail planned actions stemming from each of the Wall report recommendations. The intention is to implement all 51, Wharton said.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Bryce Hoye

Reporter

Bryce Hoye is an award-winning journalist and science writer with a background in wildlife biology and interests in courts, climate, health and more. He recently finished up a stint as a producer for CBC's Quirks & Quarks. He is the Prairie rep for OutCBC. Story idea? Email bryce.hoye@cbc.ca.

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