Manitoba Hydro paid close to $75,000 for a signing ceremony involving Manitoba Hydro and Tataskweyak Cree Nation (Split Lake) upon conclusion of a deal to partner in the development of the proposed Keeyask Dam several years ago, according to documents obtained by the Canadian Taxpayers Federation.
As well, lawyers and consultants hired by the First Nation charged more than $250 per hour to aid it with its negotiations with the Crown corporation.
And when Hydro balked at paying more than $250, the band passed a resolution covering the remainder.
Colin Craig, Prairie director of the CTF, said the information, obtained through freedom-of-information legislation, highlights the need for the disclosure of all costs in negotiating partnership deals with aboriginal groups in the construction of the Wuskwatim, Keeyask and Conawapa dams as well as a new hydro transmission line. Of the four projects, only Wuskwatim has been built; the others are in various stages of planning or regulatory approval.
Previously, Manitoba Hydro has revealed the total costs of these negotiations had totalled $224 million, but it has not provided detailed breakdowns. Some of the newly obtained details had been blacked out in documents provided to the CTF but still readable.
Craig said the latest tidbits of information the CTF received are troubling.
He said the $74,757 spent on the Keeyask signing is "a huge, huge amount of money" given "there are serious poverty concerns in that community (Tataskweyak)."
More troubling, Craig said, are the revelations about how much consultants and lawyers were billing -- "astronomical amounts" well over $250 per hour.
"It confirms what we've been saying all along that there's a whole industry of consultants and lawyers that are just milking the system and making millions and millions of dollars on all these negotiation costs," Craig said.
He demanded the Selinger government investigate the matter and direct the Crown corporation to reveal cost details of its negotiations with First Nations. And he urged the public to request the provincial auditor general investigate the matter.
However, Hydro spokesman Glenn Schneider said the $75,000 signing involved three other communities besides Tataskweyak. Travel costs were included in the event, which was marked by a feast.
"The premier was invited and I think attended... It was a major event in the lives of the community," Schneider said.
He said Hydro is bound by a confidentiality agreement, insisted upon by its First Nations partners, not to disclose details of its negotiating costs.
He noted the documents obtained by the CTF underscore the fact Hydro scrutinizes its bills carefully. He added it is not Hydro's business if Tataskweyak or another First Nation wishes to spend more than the $250-an-hour limit set by Hydro on consultants.
"People can look at this from the outside and say that money could have been spent in different ways, but you have to respect the integrity of the local leadership. We can't impose our views from the outside on how they want to spend their money," Schneider said.