Manitoba Hydro, the subplot of the campaign, took centre stage again Tuesday with a testy protest at the legislature and a fresh round of NDP attacks on Tory Leader Hugh McFadyen.
In a speech billed as a blueprint for the future of Manitoba Hydro, Premier Greg Selinger again cast McFadyen as a secret privatizer who is using the Bipole issue to run down Manitoba Hydro in order to sell it off.
"The best way to fight to keep (Manitoba Hydro) public is in this election right now," Selinger told a crowd of NDP candidates, union members and staffers. "We will build it. They will mothball it."
But Selinger failed to offer much in the way of a new vision for the Crown power company, despite calls last week from the Winnipeg Chamber of Commerce to transform the dam-building company into a modern green energy powerhouse.
Selinger reiterated the NDP's commitment to building new northern dams and add more wind and geothermal energy. Beyond that, Selinger said the most important question about Hydro's future is whether the company remains public: "You can't have a bright future for Hydro unless it reports and is owned and accountable to the people of Manitoba."
There is virtually no one in the province who has publicly advocated for the privatization of Hydro. McFadyen has repeatedly said he would keep the utility public, but Selinger has spent much of this campaign saying McFadyen can't be trusted since his party privatized the Manitoba Telephone System in the 1990s.
Selinger always stops short of calling McFadyen a liar.
McFadyen got some payback later Tuesday when about 75 farmers huddled in the rain outside the legislature to protest the NDP's decision to build the Bipole power line down the longer, more expensive west side of the province. The NDP has chosen the west side in order to preserve a swath of east-side boreal forest, and because the party believes grappling with east side First Nations and environmentalists will stall the project.
Lead by Niverville farmer Karen Friesen, the protesters said the west side line will damage farmland and cost ratepayers more.
McFadyen told the crowd the Selinger government has failed to defend its decision on the Bipole, preferring instead to throw mud about privatization.
"My comfort is in knowing I'm in some pretty good company," quipped McFadyen, as he stood next to former Manitoba Hydro CEO Len Bateman, who also opposes the west-side route.
The protest took a rude turn when the Wilderness Committee's Eric Reder shouted from the outskirts of the crowd, saying an east side line would damage one of the most important intact forests on the planet. Protesters booed Reder and then surrounded him in order to stop him from hoisting a banner. Angry words, and some shoving, ensued.
ON Tuesday, Premier Greg Selinger released data suggesting Manitoba families would pay $381 more a year for power if rates matched Alberta's, or $654 more if they matched what those in Minneapolis are charged.
It was part of an attempt to discredit Tory Leader Hugh McFadyen, who mused years ago that it may be worth bringing Hydro's low rates more in line with the market value of the province's power. McFadyen has since disavowed the idea.
Many environmentalists say market rates make sense, both to spur conservation and to help alternative energy projects such as wind be competitive in Manitoba's cheap power economy.
That's not a debate Selinger is open to having, saying Manitoba's low power rates attract business and keep the province affordable for families.