'This guy is pure desperation': MMF president disagrees with premier's suggestion Metis would lose future rights in Manitoba Hydro deal
Published Thursday, March 22, 2018 6:22PM CST
Last Updated Thursday, March 22, 2018 7:43PM CST
The fallout over the resignation of nearly the entire Manitoba Hydro board continued Thursday with new comments from Manitoba’s premier and new criticism directed his way.
On Wednesday, nine of 10 members resigned because they say they couldn't get a meeting with Premier Brian Pallister on critical issues involving the finances and governance of the Crown corporation.
Pallister said there has been communication between his government and the outgoing Hydro board, but not during the Public Utilities Board rate-setting process.
The leader of the opposition, meantime, called on Pallister to apologize to the Manitoba Metis Federation over comments made regarding a $70 million dollar deal with Hydro in order to ensure the MMF wouldn’t stall a transmission line to Minnesota with regulatory challenges.
On Thursday, Pallister said the government stopped the deal because it would give away the future rights of Metis people.
“It purports to give away a right in the future,” Pallister told reporters. “What it proposes is that future, in this case, Metis people would not disagree with a project. They would not disagree with it subject to this agreement being reached yet they don’t know what the project would be. They don’t know where it would be, they don’t know the nature of it and therefore it would be very difficult to believe such an agreement, if reached, was either fair or enforceable.”
"There's a balance that has to be found and I don't think, again, that signing off on your rights at the expense of your children is a smart or a fair thing to do."
The Manitoba Metis Federation said the premier’s comments aren’t entirely accurate.
MMF lawyer Jason Madden said the specifics of the deal only relate to transmission projects that are short in length.
He said a clause in the agreement means it doesn’t apply to longer lines.
“It’s not a blank cheque,” said Madden. “It’s a way forward on how Manitoba Hydro and the Manitoba Metis Federation will deal with these issues in a collaborative way.”
“The deal is not as he (the premier) describes.”
MMF president David Chartrand said you can’t give away rights.
“This guy is pure desperation,” Chartrand told CTV Winnipeg. “There’s no rights being given away from anybody.”
Chartrand accused Pallister of trying to twist the narrative in the wake of the board resignations and suggested the premier should instead try to make amends with outgoing board chair Sandy Riley.
Northern First Nation communities concerned in the wake of resignations: MKO Grand Chief
Manitoba Keewatinowi Okimakanak Grand Chief Sheila North said she’s worried about the future of the relationship between Manitoba’s northern First Nations and Manitoba Hydro in the wake of the resignations.
North said the relationship is crucial to the long-term growth and health of Manitoba’s economy.
“As a Crown corporation with obligations to MKO First Nations, Manitoba Hydro holds an important place in the province of Manitoba and should not be toyed with,” said North in a statement. “For the Hydro board to say they’ve had no communication with the leader of the province is disturbing.”
“Much of the province’s wealth comes from lands and treaty areas that are mostly populated by First Nation people. Treaty 5 acknowledges that First Nations controlled the waterways. Hydro’s relationships with First Nations are crucial to a steady flow of electricity south and Manitoba’s economy.”
North said numerous northern First Nations have various issues they want to discuss regarding Manitoba Hydro and without discussion with elected leaders she questioned how the issues will get resolved.
'This is really unprecedented': political analyst weighs in
Political analyst Christopher Adams said the departure of Riley isn’t all that surprising, given some of the financial challenges facing Manitoba Hydro and apparent lack of communication between the board and provincial government.
Adams said what is surprising is the resignation of the eight other Tory-appointed board members at the same time.
“This is really unprecedented,” said Adams. “I don’t remember seeing anything like this in Manitoba’s political history that I’ve looked at.”
“We knew that there was friction between Sandy Riley and the premier. We know that he (Riley) had been requesting things for quite a long time and so it really came to a head.”
Adams said while the political consequences of the situation remain to be seen, he said the dispute involving Pallister, the outgoing hydro board and the MMF sheds light on the premier's leadership style.
“He probably sees that there’s nothing to be merited by consulting, getting pushback and having to still make the same decisions,” said Adams. "I think it's a leadership style of independently coming forward with decisions based on what he sees as his government priorities and then putting forth and letting things fall out as they may."
Adams said it’s clear the board was frustrated because the government and the premier’s office would not agree to a meeting with the board or the board chair.
“This was an unfortunate thing,” he said. “I think it was a failure of communications and I think we’re going to see things unravel or have an impact as we go forward.”