June 17, 2019

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Hydro line to Minnesota hits resistance

Ottawa, Manitoba, First Nations all at odds over lack of consultation

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.

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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."

Terry Nelson, former chief of the Roseau River First Nation, said Ottawa and Manitoba run the risk of 'destroying this international contract.'

BORIS MINKEVICH / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS FILES

Terry Nelson, former chief of the Roseau River First Nation, said Ottawa and Manitoba run the risk of 'destroying this international contract.'

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.

Premier Brian Pallister said Manitoba has used 'the gold standard' for consultations with First Nations. First Nations, however, disagree.

MIKE DEAL / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS FILES

Premier Brian Pallister said Manitoba has used 'the gold standard' for consultations with First Nations. First Nations, however, disagree.

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.

Consulted communities

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.

Long Plain First Nation Chief Dennis Meeches said claims either level of government meaningfully consulted with First Nations are false.

MIKAELA MACKENZIE / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS FILES

Long Plain First Nation Chief Dennis Meeches said claims either level of government meaningfully consulted with First Nations are false.

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.

Natural Resources Minister Amarjeet Sohi was not available for an interview Friday afternoon.

The preferred final route for the Manitoba-Minnesota transmission line.

The preferred final route for the Manitoba-Minnesota transmission line.

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

dylan.robertson@freepress.mb.ca

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