December 6, 2013 Sections
Winnipeg Free Press - ONLINE EDITION
Criticism is fine as long as it’s not misleading.
That’s the sum of a Manitoba Hydro news release today condemning the Canadian Taxpayer Federation for its "misleading statements" regarding the Crown corporation’s consultations with First Nations on northern hydro development.
"There is nothing new in the information released by the CTF -- except for the fact that a close reading of the documents reveals that Manitoba Hydro carefully audits payments for its consultation process with First Nations, rather than the depiction of a careless handling of payments as implied by the CTF," Hydro president and CEO Scott Thomson said.
Thomson’s remarks are in response to a claim made by CTF spokesman Colin Craig this week that Hydro paid close to $75,000 for a signing ceremony involving Hydro and Tataskweyak Cree Nation (TCN) upon conclusion of a deal to partner in the development of the proposed Keeyask generating station.
Craig also produced documents that showed lawyers and consultants hired by the First Nation charged more than $250 per hour to aid it with its negotiations with the Crown corporation.
Thomson said that Hydro's new approach to hydroelectric development is an inclusive one that engages Aboriginal people prior to projects being built to reduce the impact of those developments.
He said in a statement that while expenditures on Aboriginal engagement are significant in absolute terms, they are a small percentage of the overall anticipated project costs.
He said a number of the documents were Hydro memos accompanying reimbursement for expenses agreed to with First Nation partners, each containing explanations for expenses claimed, but disallowed or adjusted in accordance with pre-determined budgets or claim limits.
"This illustrates that Hydro has not provided anyone with a 'blank cheque' but that any expenditures are agreed upon in advance and invoices are checked and corrected if necessary," Thomson said.
Band council resolution documents show that TCN chief and council exercised their prerogative in engaging consultants at rates higher than Hydro's reimbursement rates, Hydro said.
Thomson said the band absorbs those costs, not Hydro customers.
The issue of these costs has also been a running theme from the Progressive Conservative Opposition during the extended legislative sitting this summer.
Updated on Friday, September 6, 2013 at 3:40 PM CDT: