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Hydro suspects northern partner leaked document

Export-price predictions could give edge

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Manitoba Hydro scrambled last October to recover sensitive export-pricing information after it discovered a top secret internal document had been leaked.

Nine months later, the Crown corporation is not sure it has recaptured its leaked information.

In a letter dated Oct. 18, Hydro wrote to Tataskweyak Cree Nation at Split Lake demanding the return of the document. The letter, from Shawna Pachal, power projects development division manager, said it contained "top secret information" relating to the Wuskwatim generating station as well as the proposed Keeyask and Conawapa dams and the Bipole III transmission line.

Similar letters were sent to several other northern First Nations -- all partners or potential partners of Hydro in hydroelectric dam projects.

'The potential impacts of the unauthorized release of this information are ultimately detrimental to both Manitoba Hydro and its First Nations partners'

-- Manitoba Hydro letter to Tataskweyak Cree Nation

"The potential impacts of the unauthorized release of this information are ultimately detrimental to both Manitoba Hydro and its First Nations partners in proceeding with the above projects," the letter to Tataskweyak stated.

A copy of the letter was leaked to the Manitoba Progressive Conservatives, who raised the issue in the legislature on Tuesday.

Glenn Schneider, a Hydro spokesman, said the document in question is the corporation's Power Resource Plan -- essentially a marketing plan containing predicted export prices.

He said it's the type of information "that would be of great interest" to Hydro's competitors.

Hydro learned copies of the internal document were circulating where they shouldn't when the Public Utilities Board (PUB) and a lawyer for the Consumers' Association of Canada notified the Crown corporation they had received copies.

That's when it sent out letters to its First Nations partners asking all documents be returned, including any copies that may have been made. It set a deadline of Oct. 30, 2012, for the return of the documents.

"This unfortunate step is required at this time to ensure Manitoba Hydro regains control of the distribution of its highly critical and sensitive confidential information," the company said in its letter to First Nations. It added Hydro will look for new ways of sharing top secret information with partners.

Asked Tuesday if Hydro had retrieved all the sensitive documents, Schneider replied: "We believe we did but we can't be absolutely sure."

Opposition MLAs chided Hydro Minister Dave Chomiak for being seemingly unaware the sensitive information had been leaked.

"We asked if the secret documents had been returned and we didn't get an answer. We got a non-answer and I think that's deplorable," Conservative Leader Brian Pallister said following question period.

Chomiak was unavailable for comment afterwards. An aide said the minister was being briefed on the issue.

A government spokesman later issued a statement on his behalf. It said Hydro and its partners have a responsibility to protect commercially sensitive information and took "appropriate action" when they discovered it had been leaked.

Information contained in the report was the subject of a dispute between the PUB and Hydro. The regulator wanted to see the information and the corporation resisted.

The dispute has since been resolved, the government spokesman said.

larry.kusch@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition July 24, 2013 A6

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