Metis Federation shouldn’t wield veto power over transmission line to Minnesota: Manitoba premier

By | May 17, 2019

Premier Brian Pallister says the Manitoba Metis Federation shouldn’t have “veto power” over a proposed power line to Minnesota — and the federal government shouldn’t be standing in the way of clean energy.

On Thursday, the federal government pushed back its deadline to approve Manitoba Hydro’s 500-kilovolt transmission line to Minnesota, citing outstanding concerns raised by Indigenous communities, until June 14.

In delaying approval of the transmission line, Ottawa pointed fingers at the province for quashing deals with Métis leadership that would have ensured their backing for such projects as the Manitoba-Minnesota Transmission Project.

Pallister said Friday he doesn’t believe the MMF should wield that kind of influence over the transmission line’s construction.

“Nobody should have that veto power,” he said, adding the delays on the project would cost Manitoba $200 million a year in damages, penalties and increased costs.

“We’re all Manitobans. Manitoba Métis people buy Hydro. They’re the owners of Hydro. The consequences are for them, too.”

Indigenous support dissipates

“It has become clear through our consultations that agreements offered by Manitoba Hydro to Indigenous communities, and then discontinued by the Manitoba government, were critical for Indigenous support for this project,” Alexandre Deslongchamps, a spokesperson for Minister of Natural Resources Amarjeet Sohi, said Thursday.

“It is also clear that this decision has affected Indigenous groups’ support for the project.”

Indigenous groups who were silent during the National Energy Board hearing expressed their reservations after Pallister scrapped previous financial agreements between Hydro and the Manitoba Metis Federation, a senior government official told CBC News.

The official was referring to the Progressive Conservative government quashing a $67.5-million payment to garner MMF’s support for hydroelectricity projects — which was negotiated because of the Manitoba-Minnesota transmission line project — and the $20-million Turning the Page agreement.

This map shows the proposed route of the Manitoba-Minnesota Transmission Project, which is already under construction south of the border. (National Energy Board)

On Friday, Pallister once again said his government has no interest in paying the Manitoba Metis Federation what he’s previously called “persuasion money.”

He called on Ottawa to get out of the way.

“This is not a pipeline. This is not a waste disposal site,” Pallister said. “This is a clean, green hydro project. So you want to claim you’re a green government, then don’t block clean, green energy projects in Manitoba.”

The premier aired his grievances in a letter to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, he told reporters.

The transmission line, which already has approval from the province and the National Energy Board, would provide the final link in a chain bringing hydroelectricity from generating stations in northern Manitoba through the Bipole III transmission line and across the U.S. border.

Duty to consult is vital

All told, the line is expected to cost roughly $453 million and increase the province’s electricity export capacity to 3,185 megawatts from 2,300 megawatts.

The Manitoba government approved an environmental licence for the project in April, and the federal government had been expected to make its decision by Thursday at the latest.

Ottawa asked for another month, saying it must honour its own court-imposed duty to consult with Indigenous communities before choosing to approve the project. That’s of heightened importance after the Federal Court of Appeal ruled Ottawa fell short of its requirement while approving the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion.  

“We need to meet our duty to consult,” Sohi’s office said on Friday. “We know that has resulted in successful court challenges and further delays in other proposed projects when we haven’t.”

Millions at risk: Premier

Pallister isn’t happy about the federal government’s delay, following the energy board’s approval last November.

“It’s been six months. How much more time do you need?” he said. “We’re getting into the red zone. We’re talking about placing hundreds of millions of dollars of Manitoba’s investments at risk.”

The delay could harm Hydro’s reputation as a reputable seller of electricity, he said.

“If you can’t meet your commitments, whatever they may be, then you have a serious problem with potential buyers.”

Manitoba Metis Federation President David Chartrand says Brian Pallister has himself to blame for the roadblocks a Hydro transmission line to Minnesota is experiencing. (Lyza Sale/CBC)

In terms of consultation with Indigenous communities, Pallister said the province offers the “gold standard,” but Metis Federation president David Chartrand disagreed.

He said if Pallister simply agreed to the terms of the initial MMF agreements, the cost would have been much cheaper than what’s now at risk.

“Pallister caused this mess and he needs to undo this mess. One phone call to David Chartrand and the Métis government, we can sit down and come to an understanding of respecting each other’s jurisdiction,” Chartrand said.

NDP Leader Wab Kinew says Pallister’s spat with the Métis is hurting Manitoba’s economy.

“This is potentially costing millions of dollars of cost overruns, maybe even billions of dollars if these export contracts are put at risk,” he said.

“This is uncertainty and more costs on Manitoba Hydro, and consequently all of us as Manitobans, just because the premier can’t play nice with others.”

Manitoba Hydro says the federal government’s extension request would make it harder for Manitoba to meet its scheduled in-service date of June 2020 for the Manitoba-Minnesota transmission line. The line is already under construction south of the border.

“The utility has been planning for an accelerated construction schedule for some time, and has selected two contractors to work on different sections of the line as soon as the federal licence is received,” a statement said.

“Risks remain on the project, including extreme weather conditions such as very heavy, prolonged rains or an unusually warm winter, or unforeseen technical issues, which could impact both the schedule and budget.”