The Manitoba Metis Federation announced plans Wednesday to take the province to court over a cancelled $67.5-million compensation agreement with Manitoba Hydro.

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The Manitoba Metis Federation announced plans Wednesday to take the province to court over a cancelled $67.5-million compensation agreement with Manitoba Hydro.

Amid 75 minutes of vitriol MMF president David Chartrand and its legal team hurled at Premier Brian Pallister, lawyer Jason Madden said the federation will seek a judicial review to overturn the government's decision.

"This is a legally-binding agreement," Madden told a news conference in Winnipeg.

The escalating furor erupted March 21, when nine of 10 Tory-appointed members of the Hydro board of directors resigned, saying Pallister had refused to meet for the past 16 months to discuss the Crown corporation's critical finances.

Pallister blamed the resignations on his orders to cancel an agreement -- which he called "hush money" -- with the MMF to quell any opposition to the planned $453-million transmission line to Minnesota. Pallister repeatedly called the MMF a special-interest group.

On Wednesday, Madden reminded reporters Pallister had previously talked about a "race war" over Indigenous night-hunting rights and had emailed his recent Free Press op-ed piece defending his actions on the Hydro file to party members (along with a request for fundraising donations).

"We're going to shine a light on this. There is some funny business, disturbing business," Madden said. "I don't know if it's coded language to a particular constituency. Then, to go fundraising off it -- you really have to ask yourself: what's going on?"

The MMF legal team contends the now-nixed agreement is normal practice in Canada to compensate Indigenous people for land rights in energy, pipeline, mining and similar developments. In a previous 2014 agreement over the Bipole III and Keeyask Generating Station megaprojects, the province delegated authority to Hydro and the MMF to reach such agreements.

The federation believed the Minnesota transmission line deal was finalized when their two boards ratified the deal and Chartrand shook hands with Hydro chief executive officer Kelvin Shepherd. A planned signing ceremony was just a formality for a done deal, said lawyer Tom Isaac.

"This agreement comes out of a denial of Métis rights in this province, and we thought we had turned the page," Madden said, referencing reconciliation.

Pallister had no comment Wednesday.

According to a statement from Crown Services Minister Cliff Cullen, "The province has not yet been served with documents starting court proceedings. Once that happens, the province will review in order to determine its position. The Manitoba government will continue to stand up for the rights and best interests of all Manitobans, today and into the future. We have received communications from Métis people that share concerns over future rights."

"What we've seen is really unprecedented from a national perspective," said Isaac, who has negotiated Indigenous land claims across Canada. He said he has never before seen a government leader act in such a provocative and ill-informed manner, or use terms such as "hush money" and special-interest groups.

Isaac said the MMF land rights are protected by the Supreme Court -- which protects Métis people, just as it protects the rights of all other Canadians.

Chartrand said Pallister is trying to create a diversion to blame the Métis people for his lack of leadership with Hydro.

"This is the position of one person, who has taken the position he is the king. This premier has chosen us as a scapegoat," the MMF president said.

"We've become collateral damage in their own self-inflicted wounds," Madden said, also questioning the process the premier used in axing the Hydro-MMF deal. "We don't even know: was it an order-in-council (cabinet decision)? Was it written on the back of a napkin?

"The context of this is quite shocking and appalling."

And the shock wave could expand: Chartrand said Pallister has now forced him to consider taking legal action to ensure Métis land rights are respected and compensated in the planned $540-million Lake St. Martin flood-mitigation project.

nick.martin@freepress.mb.ca