Manitoba Metis Federation and government dispute who cancelled meeting

A meeting between the Manitoba Metis Federation and the government of Manitoba was cancelled, but both sides say the other pulled the plug. A deal between the MMF and Manitoba Hydro was cancelled by the government but the Metis Federation says they still have a deal with Hydro.

MMF president says he's going anyway

MMF president David Chartrand says if government formally cancels deal with Metis Federation the next step is court. (CBC News )

The Manitoba Metis Federation and Manitoba government can't even agree on who cancelled a meeting set for Friday.

The meeting between Crown Services Minister Cliff Cullen and MMF president David Chartrand, along with Manitoba Hydro president Kelvin Shepherd, was supposed to address an agreement Hydro had negotiated with the MMF. 

The meeting's apparent cancellation won't stop Chartrand, who says he's going to show up at the Legislature anyway.

Last month, the province said no to a deal between the MMF and Hydro that would have seen the Crown corporation pay the MMF just under $70 million over several decades.

Premier Brian Pallister said he believes that's a fundamental reason why nearly the entire board of Manitoba Hydro resigned in March.

The deal would see the MMF support a number of Manitoba Hydro projects including the Manitoba-Minnesota Transmission Project — a power line from Winnipeg to the U.S. border critical to Hydro's export contracts.

Pallister called it "hush money" to a "special interest group" for the MMF's acquiescence on a number of Hydro projects.

Former board chair Sandy Riley disputed that was the reason for the board's resignation, saying the group left after repeated attempts to meet with Pallister failed and several key decisions were left unmade.

Cullen told reporters Thursday the MMF pulled out of the meeting to have a consultation with a "Tripartite Steering Committee" made up of legal counsel from all sides before attending the meeting.

"We received a letter in the last couple of days saying they weren't prepared to meet at this time," Cullen said.

The MMF's Chartrand says that isn't true. He says the MMF wrote to the government asking for its agenda for the meeting and some supporting information, but never asked for a cancellation.

"I don't know when these attempts of deception are going to end," Chartrand told CBC News on Thursday.

'Give us an agenda'

"Give us an agenda, tell us what's on the agenda for Friday. He [Cullen] would not give us an agenda. So we said to him, and if you look at the letter I sent him, it says, we will see you on Friday," Chartrand said.

Chartrand provided CBC News with a copy of a letter written by the Federation's chief of staff, Al Benoit, earlier this week. 

It references the MMF and Hydro's framework agreement called "Turning the Page," which sets out a dispute resolution process. 

The MMF had written to the government earlier in the week setting out concerns the meeting did not meet the requirements of the "Turning the Page" agreement it had negotiated with Hydro and is taking the view that the deal still has the force of a legally binding agreement.

"We will, therefore, be attending with the hope of better understanding what the Manitoba Government has decided or done," wrote Benoit. 

Concluded it was cancelled

A spokesperson for Minister Cullen said in an email to CBC News that because the MMF said the meeting wouldn't comply with the agreement, Cullen's office concluded that the meeting was cancelled.

"They are of the belief that the meeting scheduled for tomorrow did not meet those requirements and made it quite clear that the meeting was not in compliance with the agreement. The MMF originally requested that the meeting be held under those terms," wrote Cullen's spokesperson.

Chartrand says he had brought his lawyers in to Winnipeg from Toronto and Vancouver in preparation for the meeting and had no intention of cancelling.

Turning the Page still valid?

"If I was intending to cancel it, why would I be bringing my lawyers in? So it is very clear this is an attempt by this government, unfortunately led by the premier, who probably gives them [his ministers] the marching orders, because I don't think any minister has the right to speak on their own, but it is unfortunate because I never thought Cullen would go to that level of deception," Chartrand said.

Late Thursday, Chartrand told CBC News he had called his lawyers back to Winnipeg and would appear at Cullen's office at the previously appointed time on Friday, regardless of a scheduled meeting.

He told CBC News if the MMF received a formal notice from the Manitoba government the Turning the Page agreement was cancelled, then no further meetings would be needed. 

"Then we can see each other across the courtroom tables," Chartrand said.

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About the Author

Sean Kavanagh

Provincial Affairs Reporter

Born and raised in Winnipeg, Sean has had a chance to live in some of Canada's other beautiful places (Whistler, B.C., and Lake of the Woods, Ont.) as well as in Europe and the United States. In more than a decade of reporting, Sean has covered some of the seminal events in Manitoba, from floods to elections, including a stint as the civic affairs reporter responsible for city hall.