FORMER NDP premier Gary Doer makes no apology for his government’s decisions on Hydro mega-projects, including the location of Manitoba’s third power line, Bipole III.
A review released Friday, which was commissioned by the current Tory government, concluded billions of dollars in cost overruns and spiralling debt at Crown-owned Manitoba Hydro were caused, in part, by a lack of government oversight and overly optimistic sales predictions.
Doer, who was premier from 1999 to 2009, when Bipole III and the northern Keeyask dam were initiated, dismissed the report’s conclusions.
"I’m not worried about the politics," he said.
"People are smart. They know partisan politics when they see it. And they are smart enough to see when somebody makes a claim the sky is falling and their bills are cheaper than anywhere else in Canada, except maybe Quebec.
"Building the future is always controversial," he said.
The report was conducted by the former premier of Saskatchewan, Brad Wall, who led the right-leaning Saskatchewan party.
Doer said he believes building Bipole III in western Manitoba, versus eastern Manitoba, where the province’s two other transmission lines existed, was the right thing to do. The review criticized the decision, saying it led to a massive increase in cost and Hydro debt load.
Doer said in the 2007 election, he promised not to build the line through the boreal forest east of Lake Winnipeg.
Building the third transmission line away from the two other lines reduced the chance of a major storm cutting off all power to the province, he said.
"We had the reliability issue for 50 years with the two transmission lines being too close to each other and the converter stations going into one location," Doer said on Friday.
"We fixed it when we dealt with the new Bipole III. With the two transmission lines built together, that was the original sin. We dealt with it and it got done."
Doer noted a storm in 1996 did cause problems on both main transmission lines from northern generating stations. High winds toppled 19 towers on Bipoles I and II and forced Manitobans to reduce their electrical use for several days while the towers and lines were repaired.
"The minister of emergency measures in 1996, by the way, is the present premier (Brian Pallister) when the storm hit in 1996. It’s easy to point fingers when you left an empty file."
As for relying on export sales to help pay the costs of building Bipole III, Doer says he’s "guilty," and proud of it. "It helps offset the cost."
Doer pointed out even Manitoba Hydro came out in recent days confirming Manitobans pay some of the lowest electrical rates in Canada.
"The public is going to judge all the political stuff, including from the existing government, on the basis of three things: 1. What are my rates? 2. What’s the source of power? Manitobans like that we have renewable energy on our grid, unlike Saskatchewan and Alberta to a great degree, and 3. We now have reliability."
Kevin Rollason is one of the more versatile reporters at the Winnipeg Free Press. Whether it is covering city hall, the law courts, or general reporting, Rollason can be counted on to not only answer the 5 Ws — Who, What, When, Where and Why — but to do it in an interesting and accessible way for readers.