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Toothless government lapdog

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The Manitoba Clean Environment Commission last month recommended Conservation Minister Gord Mackintosh issue a licence for the Bipole III Transmission Project. That was to no one's surprise, especially those of us who sat in on the commissions hearings.

The government wants Manitobans to think this supposedly arm's-length body has thoroughly examined Manitoba Hydro's environmental impact statement (EIS) and concluded the project is environmentally sound. This fits the myth the NDP wants Manitobans to believe: that it is governing this province with a dedication to a healthy environment.

The commission, for its part, wants Manitobans to think it has held Hydro's feet to the fire.

That is the very body that recommended the licence after it chronicled the many deficiencies in the information put before it by Hydro. The commission's own report states: "It would have been justifiable for the commission to reject the EIS as presented and to send the proponent to start over." Of course, it didn't.

One can be excused for asking how bad would the record have to be for the commission to recommend that licensing be denied?

It is inconsistent and irrational for the commission to acknowledge such serious deficiencies yet still recommend licensing of the project. Despite the gravity of these deficiencies, it concluded it was more important to continue to expand Hydro's system to meet imaginary domestic and export energy demands.

So, in all likelihood, this project will go ahead, at a cost of $3.28 billion (Hydro's figure -- based on the record, one likely vastly understated). Never mind the impact on the electricity bills of consumers. Don't be concerned the impact on the bottom line of farmers (when extrapolated over the next 100 years) could exceed $6 billion. Never mind an impact of at least $6 billion has, through the strangest logic I have encountered in almost 60 years of engineering practice and scientific inquiry, been described by Hydro, and endorsed by the commission, as "not significant".

Don't be alarmed the Bipole III line will pass through the home ranges of three herds of woodland caribou, an endangered species. So what if it is in non-compliance with the North American Migratory Bird Convention and if it plows through moose country (a species already in trouble in areas where the line will pass).

Look the other way when the project ignores the incremental and cumulative effect on environmental parameters that are already stressed or will be in the future.

Ignore the risk taken on, and the obvious contradiction, in building a transmission line for purposes of system reliability through Manitoba's tornado alley.

The Bipole III Coalition, of which I am a member, participated in this tightly controlled and limited review and I can tell you this has not been, as is claimed, a rational approach to meeting the electrical energy needs of Manitobans. This was a review intended to save the government from answering for its ideological and illogical drive to expand Hydro's physical plant without a proper review of whether there's even a need for that expansion. This review does not pass the smell test.

One can be excused for asking: "How bad would the record have to be and how deficient would the process have to be for the commission to recommend that licensing be denied?"

Hanging the horns on Hydro, although richly deserved, to distract from the deficiencies in the commission's own processes and the framework established by government for this environmental review, does nothing to ensure the quality of the review to which Manitobans are entitled.

The basic problem is the arms of this supposedly arm's-length body are much shorter than the government and the commission would like us to believe. Many would say they have been amputated.

Under this government, the Manitoba Clean Environment Commission has been turned from an environmental watchdog guarding the interests of all Manitobans into a toothless and obedient lapdog of the NDP.


Garland Laliberte is dean emeritus of the faculty of engineering, University of Manitoba, and vice-president of the Bipole III Coalition.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition August 12, 2013 A9

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