One day after winning the election, the Pallister government was in court against the Manitoba Metis Federation, which is attempting to quash a decision depriving it of $82 million in Manitoba Hydro development compensation.
"This case is all about the honour of the Crown and how the Crown behaved in the face of a very special agreement," MMF lawyer Thomas Isaac told Queen’s Bench Justice Glenn Joyal on Wednesday.
"There isn’t a lot of room for nuance in this case," Isaac said. "Either one party is really, really right or really, really wrong."
At issue are two agreements. In 2014, the province, MFF and Manitoba Hydro reached an agreement, called Turning the Page, that provided for payments of $1 million a year to the MMF for 20 years as compensation for past and current Hydro development on Métis land. A subsequent agreement with Manitoba Hydro was to provide the MMF with an additional $67.5 million, spread out over 50 years.
The Pallister government issued a directive to Manitoba Hydro in March 2018 to cancel the second agreement. Pallister described the payout as "hush money." The province terminated the Turn the Page agreement last November, at which point $5 million had already been paid to the MMF.
Isaac argued the language of the Turning the Page agreement clearly shows the NDP government of the day acknowledged the Aboriginal rights of the Métis. The Pallister government "unilaterally" terminated the agreements, with no provision for negotiation, he said.
"Agreements like this are the glue that binds reconciliation… It’s about parties working together in good faith and working through these issues," Isaac said. "The Manitoba Metis Federation was playing by the rules they had agreed to. Nobody forced the parties to enter into the contract."
A decision in the province’s favour would result in a chilling effect right across the country, MMF president David Chartrand said outside court.
"You can’t just cancel agreements after the fact," he said. "If that’s the case, every First Nation in the country, every industry must be paranoid."
"It can’t be just that simplistic that you can put a change in policy in cabinet and cancel an agreement," Chartrand said. "It’s a dangerous precedent that could be set here."
The hearing is set to conclude Thursday with submissions from the province. The judge is expected to reserve his decision.