Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Métis ready for another court battle

Dispute over transmission line

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Fresh off a major victory in the Supreme Court of Canada, the Manitoba Metis Federation threatened Monday to use legal means to halt construction of a major hydro transmission line in Manitoba.

MMF president David Chartrand accused Manitoba Hydro of refusing to consult with the Métis people on the construction of the $3.28-billion Bipole III transmission line.

He said the Crown corporation appeared complacent and was acting as though it was inevitable the Clean Environment Commission would give the huge project its stamp of approval.

"We're just the casualties of war," Chartrand complained to the CEC.

He implored the commission to refuse to grant Hydro an environmental licence to build the 1,400-kilometre line -- linking northern dams to the south -- until the corporation comes to the table.

Chartrand said the proposed line would cause "immense damage" to Métis people by disrupting such important cultural and economic activities as hunting, gathering and trapping.

"Without question, if this thing moves ahead, you will see me in the courtroom. And I do not want to go to court," he said during a 90-minute appearance before the commission, adding he is weary of court battles.

"But if Hydro continues to just ignore my people and disrespect them, we will fight to the end. We will protect our people."

On Friday, the Supreme Court ruled Ottawa did not live up to its obligations after it promised to set aside certain lands for Métis children at the time Manitoba joined confederation.

The MMF believes the ruling strengthens its case to be properly consulted -- and compensated -- by Hydro in the construction of the transmission line.

Chartrand accused the Crown corporation of having "tunnel vision," saying it seemed Hydro was content to consult a handful of Métis individuals and communities while ignoring the group that speaks for all of them.

He said he was under the impression when he appeared before the CEC in November that Manitoba Hydro intended to have a serious discussion with the MMF over Bipole. He said that never happened.

On Monday, Chartrand sparred with Hydro lawyer Douglas Bedford, who questioned whether the MMF spoke for all of Manitoba's Métis people.

He noted that in an earlier submission, the MMF had said it represented 40,000 people when Statistics Canada says there are 90,000 persons of Métis descent in the province.

Chartrand bristled at the suggestion he did not represent the Métis. He apologized if an old population figure got into a previous affidavit for the CEC. He said the MMF has 55,000 adult members. The organization does include children in its membership counts.

Chartrand told Bedford that given his line of questioning, he now understood why Hydro had refused to consult meaningfully with his organization.

Bill Henderson, a Hydro spokesman, said later there have been "extensive attempts" by Hydro to consult with the Métis people -- with the grassroots as well as leaders.

"We've made major efforts to work with them and to engage and to solicit input that reflects their interests and we will continue to do so," Henderson said. "I think that Manitoba Hydro would dispute very much that we have not been trying to work diligently with the MMF."

Chartrand said he supports Manitoba Hydro as an important economic generator for the province and believes an arrangement can be worked out with the corporation on Bipole.

While the MMF leader said his people would seek compensation for the construction of the line, he insisted money was secondary to the need to address outstanding environmental concerns. larry.kusch@freepress.mb.ca

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Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition March 12, 2013 A5

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