Hey there, time traveller! This article was published 17/5/2019 (416 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
OTTAWA — The federal Liberals may beef up the National Energy Board’s final conditions on Manitoba Hydro’s proposed line to Minnesota.
While Métis leaders have raised concerns about the province’s handling of the project, Ottawa is also worried about claims from First Nations the province didn’t adequately consult them, an idea Premier Brian Pallister rejects.
"We're using a gold standard on our consultations," the premier told reporters Friday. "Ottawa uses an old standard."
Federal changes to the NEB conditions could further delay the project’s approval beyond the June 14 extension which the federal cabinet recently issued. Pallister fears the project could be put on hold though this fall’s election cycle.
"We're in the red zone," he said.
On Thursday, the Free Press revealed that the Liberals sought another month to decide whether to green-light the $453-million transmission line, hoping the province would rectify its spat with the Manitoba Metis Federation.
Last year, the Pallister government reneged on a tentative deal Manitoba Hydro negotiated that would have given the federation $67.5-million in exchange for not contesting the project during its assessment process.
The NEB approved the project last November, but had used the testimony the federation delivered before Pallister refused to approve the $67.5-million deal last March.
Now, First Nations are going public with complaints about how both Manitoba and Ottawa have consulted them throughout the process, largely hinging on longstanding treaty grievances.
"We'll probably just end up destroying this international contract, and the Liberals will be seen as not able to deal with First Nations people," said Terry Nelson, a councillor and former chief of Roseau River First Nation.
The provincial government says bureaucrats have consulted with 21 different Indigenous communities, including some in Ontario, regarding the Manitoba-Minnesota Transmission Project.
The province spent roughly a million dollars to consult with these communities:
Animakee Wa Zhing #37
Anishnaabeg of Naongashiing
Birdtail Sioux First Nation
Black River First Nation
Brokenhead Ojibway Nation
Buffalo Point First Nation
Canupawakpa Dakota First Nation
Dakota Plains Wahpeton First Nation
Dakota Tipi First Nation
Iskatewizaagegan 39 First Nation
Long Plain First Nation
The Manitoba Métis Community (including the Manitoba Metis Federation)
Northwest Angle No. 33
Peguis First Nation
Roseau River Anishinabe First Nation
Sagkeeng First Nation
Sandy Bay Ojibway First Nation
Shoal Lake 40 First Nation
Sioux Valley Dakota First Nation
Swan Lake First Nation
Waywayseecappo First Nation
The proposed line largely sits within Roseau River’s traditional territory, where the band has been trying since 1996 to convert parcels of land into reserves for economic development.
Nelson said Manitoba has been "very negligent" in addressing the issue, which he said is key to getting buy-in for the project.
"All we said was 'let's negotiate something' and the province never came to the table," he claimed.
'It gets to the point where it's the equivalent of a veto. Nobody should have veto power; we're all Manitobans' – Premier Brian Pallister, on Ottawa revisiting old arguments
It seems Ottawa is taking those concerns to heart.
In a Thursday letter, the federal government told Roseau River First Nation it was "prepared to propose amendments to several of the NEB conditions" which will be drafted "shortly."
Natural Resources Canada is also establishing a working group to help assess the project’s impact on harvesting plants and animals, "and cultural impacts of changing the landscape and resources" in southern Manitoba.
The premier said he supports Indigenous communities being compensated for adverse impacts caused by the project, saying it’s akin to a farmer or homeowner getting a fair deal. But he questioned the need for Ottawa to revisit arguments that would have come up in the "tremendously extensive" consultation process.
"It gets to the point where it's the equivalent of a veto. Nobody should have veto power; we're all Manitobans," the premier said. He said Friday he has expressed his concerns in a letter to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.
Chiefs in northwestern Ontario said they've also encountered issues with Manitoba, and would specify those in interviews next week.
In Manitoba, Long Plain First Nation Chief Dennis Meeches wrote that many of the seven Treaty One nations have concerns with a "complete lack of meaningful provincial consultation" while recent talks with Ottawa "have been rushed and superficial."
'We do not see any legal way for the project to proceed' – Long Plain First Nations Chief Dennis Meeches, on the future of the deal without consultations
In a statement, Meeches wrote that Long Plain had selected portions of land for its treaty allocation upon which the transmission line would sit.
"Our concerns have fallen on deaf ears. To date, we have not been properly consulted by any level of government," Meeches wrote.
He added that the reserve’s years of litigation over Ottawa’s handling of Kapyong Barracks appears to have not changed how the federal government handles land issues.
Without the issue rectified, "we do not see any legal way for the project to proceed," Meeches wrote.
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Natural Resources Minister Amarjeet Sohi was not available for an interview Friday afternoon.
Winnipeg MP Dan Vandal defended his government’s cautionary approach to consultation.
"If we make the right decisions earlier on we're going to prevent court challenges, which could really, really threaten the timelines of this project," said Vandal, who is Métis.
"We have to take the duty to consult very seriously, and if we don’t, it’s going to blow up in all of our faces."
— With files from Jessica Botelho-Urbanski
No regrets in axing Métis deal: Pallister
OTTAWA — Premier Brian Pallister told reporters Friday that he doesn’t regret stepping away from Manitoba Hydro’s tentative deal with the Manitoba Metis Federation, "not in the least."
He said that’s because the MMF deal would prevent Métis people from protesting future projects for decades, not just the Minnesota transmission line.
“It doesn't make sense. We're not in the business of buying people off so we can get them out of the way,” he said, arguing the deal would erase “Métis children's rights to protest against a Hydro project fourty years from now.”
Chartrand rejected Pallister’s characterization Friday, saying Métis people negotiated a payment, in exchange for use of lands they’d likely be entitled to.
He feels the original deal would avoid a long process of verifying just how much land the Métis would be entitled to, which would be the first major test of a groundbreaking Supreme Court judgement.
“He's costing all Manitobans a lot of money, and a lot of harm, and now he's trying to blame everybody else,” he said in a phone interview from Peru.
“It’s a reckless style of decision-making.”
Provincial NDP Leader Wab Kinew said the entire spat stems out of the premier’s feud with the old Hydro board.
“The only reason that it’s hitting this rocky patch now is because Pallister picked that fight with his old board and Sandy Riley, and then he tried to do damage control and change the channel by picking a fight with the Métis,” Kinew told reporters.
Meanwhile, a councillor at Rouseau River First Nation said his band might try thwarting the project in the courts.
Terry Nelson said the band might sue the Minnesota corporation Xcel Energy for doing business in what he deems to be an illegal encroachment on the land, due to the band’s outstanding claims.
“As soon as we drag the American company into a Manitoba court, they're very likely going to back off on the contract,” he said.
The band is also planning a July 1 rally in Minneapolis alongside Ojibwe tribes in the United States in the hopes of drumming up opposition to the project.
Pallister said the troubles the Minnesota line faces speak to increasing difficulties in getting any major infrastructure project built.
“No one should expect that they should be able to profit by excessively delaying any project,” the premier said. “There has to be a process that we can have confidence in.”
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