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This article was published 22/9/2016 (1774 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
Members of the Berens River First Nations say their community saw negligible benefits from the millions spent so far on the East Side Road by the now defunct-East Side Road Authority.
Berens River First Nation, along with four other east side First Nations, met with Infrastructure Minister Blaine Pedersen Thursday as the province works to overhaul the Crown agency once in charge of building the all-season road to service the remote parts of eastern Manitoba.
The 30-year project involves the construction of 1,000 kilometres of road along the east side of Lake Winnipeg. The Manitoba government has spent more than $75 million annually on the project in the last seven years, however former Berens River chief George Kemp says none of that money has helped his community.
"None of the First Nations on the east side saw any benefits," said Kemp, a point echoed by current chief Hartley Everett who also attended the meeting.
The authority's former chief executive officer, Ernie Gilroy, fired back at the accusations.
"It is simply not the case, that $53 million, they have been doing road building, they have been participating in the clearing for us, they have been crushing gravel for us in huge amounts," Gilroy said. "They had to hire local people... and the closest people are in Berens River and like I said we have had numerous training programs in Berens River."
Gilroy added $1 million alone was alotted for training and numerous jobs in the community.
Kemp was the chief from 2006 to 2014, when the East Side Road Authority was first established under the former government in 2009. According to a recent audit of the authority, $53 million in community benefit agreements were signed with the authority and the First Nation involving various construction contracts. Berens River First Nation is a fly-in only First Nation about 270 kilometres northeast of Winnipeg.
In constructing and maintaining the road, the authority was mandated to maximize the benefits for east side communities impacted by the project — which the recent audit by Manitoba's auditor general noted makes up 35 per cent of the project’s cost. This included entering into agreements with 13 area First Nations, which would see jobs, training and contracts flow directly to the communities.
Auditor General Norm Ricard noted in the audit a lack of performance-based measures by the authority’s management made it difficult to assess the benefits to the area’s First Nations. However, he found that local employment requirements were being met by the 10 contracts tested in audit.
However, the only training Kemp claims the community received was for first aid and rudimentary training such as a chainsaw certificate.
"There was great expectation in terms of community benefits and listening to all our surrounding communities, no one has really benefited with the way the East Side Road Authority was put in charge of the project," Kemp said. "It is amazing we got anything done, because those CBAs were not what they were cut out to be."
Pedersen described the meeting as a first step in building trust with the First Nations.
"That's why we have to go back to each community and see how we can work with them. Involving them in construction work," he said. "The community benefit agreement really is a misnomer because the the community wasn't involved with them, there wasn't a benefit to them and there wasn't agreements."
Judy Klassen, the Liberal MLA for area, said she was invited to the meeting by the chiefs, but was told by Pedersen's staff she could not attend. However, she is cautiously optimistic the government will work with the area First Nations.
"Being the elected official for Kewatinook, those were my chiefs. There were five communities there represented and that was very disheartening. Here Pedersen says they are going to work together and he goes and does this," Klassen said. "I wanted to hear commitments (to the project)... they always talk about stakeholders, being the elected official, aren't I not a stakeholder?"
There is still 20 kilometres left to build of the planned 156-kilometre, all-season road to Berens River from Provincial Road 304, Kemp said.