Manitoba Métis Federation president David Chartrand told an environmental hearing today that Manitoba Hydro has ignored its constitutional duty to consult with the province’s 52,000 registered Métis people on the Bipole III transmission line.
Chartrand told the province’s Clean Environment Commission that the proposed 1,400-kilomtere line cuts through the "Métis breadbasket" on the west side of the province, but to date the Crown utility has refused to acknowledge that.
The commission is in its seventh week of hearings on the environmental impact of the line, to run from the Gillam area in northern Manitoba to south of Winnipeg. Based on what’s heard at the hearing, the commission is to decide whether to give Manitoba Hydro an environmental licence to proceed.
"I’ve made it very clear to Hydro--you’ve taken this opportunity to ignore that we exist as a people and that we have rights," he said. "I support the development of Hydro. I truly do. The challenge is I’m not going to do it at the sacrifice of my people."
Chartrand said he wants to sit down with Hydro and negotiate a deal to preserve the traditional hunting areas of the Métis on the west side of the province. That area is already under stress from a declining moose population. The province has already put hunting restrictions on the worst-hit game hunting areas.
"We want consultation," he said in an interview. "The bottom-line is that the areas our people have traditionally used, and want to continue to use for generations to come, will not be affected and harmed. If they are, then Hydro had better re-think its business."
Chartrand said if Hydro does not consult, the Métis will go to court to force it.
He added the province consulted with the Métis on their recent securing of harvesting rights, which should serve as notice for Hydro to do the same.
"If they want to do it through the courts, I hope not, but if they do, then let’s see each other in the courtroom."
Chartrand is to be cross-examined later today.
The public hearing was originally set to end Nov. 27, but was extended into April to give Manitoba Hydro and affected communities time to digest Hydro’s plan to revise the line’s route. Hydro made the revisions to avoid fragile caribou grounds in a northern area and a large area further south known as "Moose Meadows." The extension means Hydro’s plans for a 2017 in-service date for Bipole III might be delayed.
The hearing continues Thursday with a presentation by the Manitoba branch of the Consumers Association of Canada.
The association is to call evidence on the impact on wildlife and ecological health prepared by two experts from the University of Saskatchewan.