Premier Brian Pallister denied Wednesday he or anyone else has deliberately covered up the value of Manitoba Hydro electricity sales to Saskatchewan.
"I don’t understand the accusation that is being made. I think it was a frivolous and false accusation," Pallister said, reacting to a Free Press story that a Hydro review he commissioned had failed to disclose details of two power sales valued at $5 billion to Manitoba's western neighbour.
"We’re proud of those sales to Saskatchewan. That’s why we did a press release," the premier told a raucous question period, during which he faced a barrage of questions about the revelation and its potential impact on contract negotiations between Hydro and its striking electrical workers.
NDP Leader Wab Kinew asked how the province could demand members of IBEW Local 2034 be expected to accept wage freezes in light of the value of the long-term sales deals.
He demanded the Public Utilities Board hold a new round of rate-setting hearings given the new information.
The value of the Saskatchewan contracts casts doubts on whether a 2.9 per cent consumer rate hike the Progressive Conservative government ordered in December (bypassing the PUB rate-setting process) was necessary, Kinew said.
"We were at the height of the second (COVID-19 pandemic) wave. Manitobans were losing their lives. Manitobans were losing their livelihoods. What was this (PC) team’s response? Raise Hydro rates in the cover of night," the NDP leader said.
While the debate raged in the legislature, IBEW members circled the Manitoba Legislative Building in vehicles, honking horns to draw attention to their contract demands. They have asked their dispute with Hydro be settled through arbitration.
The Free Press reported a scathing review of Manitoba Hydro by former Saskatchewan premier Brad Wall failed to disclose details of the power sales.
A Hydro source also told the newspaper the Crown corporation wanted to trumpet the power sales to Saskatchewan, but that was inconsistent with the PC government's attempts to make the previous NDP administration look bad over the construction of the Keeyask generating station and Bipole III transmission line.
Pallister disputed that either Wall or the government sought to cover up the value of the Saskatchewan deals.
Government officials handed out copies of two provincial news releases to reporters as proof, but neither document attached a dollar value to the sales. One of the releases centred on an $18.7-million federal investment in a transmission line — now completed — that is crucial to the western power sales.
Manitoba Hydro is just starting to recover "from a significant overbuild" of infrastructure under the former NDP government, Pallister said.
"Let’s put it into perspective, we’d need eight or nine more (contracts) just like the Saskatchewan deal to cover the interest on (the cost of Keeyask and Bipole III)," he told reporters after question period.
Meanwhile, Crown Services Minister Jeff Wharton wouldn't say Wednesday whether the government would back off its demand public-sector negotiators restrict wage increase offers to zero, zero, 0.75 per cent and one per cent over four years, respectively.
IBEW workers overwhelmingly rejected such an offer this week, setting the stage for the general strike.
Larry Kusch didn’t know what he wanted to do with his life until he attended a high school newspaper editor’s workshop in Regina in the summer of 1969 and listened to a university student speak glowingly about the journalism program at Carleton University in Ottawa.