The Manitoba Metis Federation has denounced a call for an investigation into its nixed $67.5-million deal with Manitoba Hydro as a political stunt, saying the landowners group behind the move is being spurred on by the dog-whistle politics of Premier Brian Pallister.

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The Manitoba Metis Federation has denounced a call for an investigation into its nixed $67.5-million deal with Manitoba Hydro as a political stunt, saying the landowners group behind the move is being spurred on by the dog-whistle politics of Premier Brian Pallister.

The comments came Wednesday in response to news the Southeast Stakeholders Coalition was trying to delay upcoming federal hearings on the Manitoba-Minnesota Transmission Project set for June, pending an investigation into the Hydro-MMF agreement.

The coalition’s motion, filed Tuesday, echoes comments made by Pallister the compensation deal was effectively "hush money."

The coalition is comprised of landowners opposed to – and set to be affected by – the transmission line project. They contend the Crown corporation misused public funds when agreeing to compensate the MMF in an effort to quiet opposition to the project.

Jason Madden, legal counsel for the MMF, said the coalition's motion regurgitates misinformation spread by Pallister, calling it a political "stunt" and "deeply offensive to Métis people."

"This is the spillover from inappropriate comments and misinformation put out there by (the premier). And, of course, groups like this will now try to use the sorts of statements he made, like ‘hush money’ or ‘persuasion payments,’ to paint these agreements in a certain light," Madden said.

"The reality is these types of agreements are negotiated across the country with Indigenous groups. There are thousands of them. They exist in every province and territory," he said. "This is a (coalition) group that largely does not understand the law, in relation to Indigenous rights, generally, and Métis rights, specifically. I think this is fallout from the premier’s comments."

Madden's comments came shortly after the MMF announced it was suing the provincial government for spiking its deal with the electrical utility. The MMF contends the 2017 deal is legally binding and is seeking to have it upheld.

Madden said various landowners set to be affected by the transmission line have also struck compensation deals with Hydro, but no one has called it a misuse of public funds. Only when Métis people strike a similar deal, does anyone seem to have a problem, the lawyer said.

"It’s not just Indigenous peoples being compensated, but other landowners as well. The idea that the landowners should be compensated, but Indigenous peoples should not be, is offensive. It really shows the bias of this group," he said.

Kevin Toyne, legal counsel for the Southeast Stakeholders Coalition, said the group has been opposed from the project from the get-go. The landowners that comprise the coalition either want the proposed transmission line route changed, or the project stopped all together.

However, Toyne said those are separate concerns from the ones that led the group to file the motion Tuesday.

"There are some serious unanswered questions here, and Manitobans deserve to know what Hydro was doing on this project and if public money was used inappropriately. Until that is settled, we don’t think the hearings should go forward," he said.

"Given everything that’s going on right now between Manitoba Hydro, the provincial government and the MMF, it’s not even clear whether Hydro can, or will, go ahead with the project."

The proposed Manitoba-Minnesota electrical link has been at the centre of the ongoing controversy between the province, the MMF and the former board of Manitoba Hydro. Last week, nine of 10 Tory-appointed members of the Crown corporation's board resigned, citing Pallister’s refusal – for more than a year -- to meet with them to discuss critical issues on the file.

Pallister countered the unprecedented mass resignation had nothing to do with a lack of communication between him and the board, but rather the board’s "hush money" deal with the MMF.

ryan.thorpe@freepress.mb.ca

Twitter: @rk_thorpe

Ryan Thorpe

Ryan Thorpe
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Ryan Thorpe likes the pace of daily news, the feeling of a broadsheet in his hands and the stress of never-ending deadlines hanging over his head.

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