Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Hydro must demand accountability

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Manitoba Hydro's approach to negotiating with northern aboriginal communities is morally superior to the methods used 40 years ago, when dams were built with minimal environmental review or consultation with the affected peoples, who were displaced from their traditional lands to build electrical capacity for southern communities.

Today, nothing is done without exhaustive reviews and consultations. First Nations are even provided with millions of dollars to hire their own lawyers and experts, while revenue-sharing deals are worked out.

The question of financial transparency and accountability, however, is below the standards expected by taxpayers today.

The latest evidence of Hydro's lackadaiscal approach was exposed by the Canadian Taxpayers Federation, which released an audit letter that raises concerns about the expenses being charged by the Tataskweyak Cree Nation in connection with Hydro development.

The audit said the band had been "double-reimbursed" for travel expenses of about $100,000. The audit also found other inconsistencies and inappropriate use of taxpayer funds, which Hydro says is not its problem.

In an earlier case, it was revealed band members were paid as much as $700 to attend meetings on Hydro development. Others received flat-screen TVs, freezers and video-game consoles as door prizes.

Hydro has said it wouldn't cover such expenses, but the problem is the utility has refused to provide any details on its spending on northern bands involved in development discussions.

First Nations affected by Hydro's development plans have billed $224 million for consultants, lawyers and other services so far, but the receipts have been kept hidden from the public.

There is no suggestion or evidence of criminal activity, but taxpayers have grown weary of reports of sloppy bookkeeping on First Nations.

Hydro's decision to partner with aboriginals in northern development may be just and fair -- the province was forced to pay out $1 billion in compensation to First Nations affected by Hydro expansion in the 1970s -- but the Crown corporation and the other partners have forgotten they also need to be forthright with the general public, which is ultimately on the hook for the higher rates that will inevitably be levied.

Editorials are the consensus view of the Winnipeg Free Press’ editorial board, comprising Gerald Flood, Catherine Mitchell, David O’Brien and Paul Samyn.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition June 21, 2013 A12

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