OTTAWA — Manitoba Premier Brian Pallister came away from his meeting with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau without a formal agreement on a planned hydro line to Minnesota — but with surprise support from First Nations.
"Nothing concrete, but I think there's an understanding that Manitoba has been using a very high standard on our consultations (with Indigenous groups)," Pallister told the Free Press, minutes after meeting with Trudeau on Parliament Hill on Wednesday.
"I don't have meetings without purpose."
The $453-million transmission line aims to export some of Manitoba’s overcapacity of hydroelectricity by June 2020, to offset Hydro’s debt and to lower carbon emissions.
The premier was circumspect about what Trudeau had to say about the construction project, but said he hopes the roughly 15-minute meeting will convince the Liberals to give the final green light by Ottawa’s self-imposed June 14 deadline.
"This was my point today: to make sure that our government here, federally, understands that we won't go back to the old ways of doing things… where we paid Indigenous people not to have a chance to be heard."
Earlier this month, the Liberals delayed their decision on whether to approve the project over Pallister’s spat with the Manitoba Metis Federation. That prompted First Nations to come forward with their own concerns about not being adequately consulted during the completed National Energy Board process.
Pallister insists the province went above and beyond its requirement to speak with Indigenous communities, and try assuaging their concerns.
On Wednesday, he said he told Trudeau delaying the project would endanger Manitoba Hydro’s reputation outside the province, and be a precedent-setting case of Ottawa delaying a hydro project after NEB approval.
The premier has said he’s open to compensation for adversely affected communities, but cancelled a 50-year, $67.5-million deal between Hydro and the MMF a year ago, calling it "hush money."
That cash was in exchange for the MMF not contesting the project during its assessment process, which would prompt an unprecedented undertaking to determine Métis land rights and compensation for disruption to hunting patterns and cultural practices.
Meanwhile, First Nations such as Roseau River, Long Plain and Sagkeeng say neither the province nor Ottawa made a serious effort to hear their concerns, prompting the Liberals this month to consider adding to the project’s NEB conditions.
Pallister said Wednesday he fears a third extension to the Manitoba-Minnesota Transmission Project would add costs and delay the replacement of fossil fuels in the Midwest.
"Real reconciliation does not mean buying acquiescence from people; it means listening," the premier said.
MMF president David Chartrand said he’d soon publish excerpts from interviews Pallister gave in the 2016 election campaign, in which he pledged to work with Métis and do ensure the Minnesota line was done with respect for Indigenous people.
"He’s ruining this process like a Wild West show, where he’s pulling his gun at any time," Chartrand said.
However, earlier Wednesday, the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs threw some surprise support behind Pallister’s push to get the project approved.
Grand Chief Arlen Dumas, who could not be reached for comment, wrote in a news release First Nations were excited about jobs and economic opportunities from the Hydro line.
Despite pillorying the premier on issues such as child welfare, health devolution and inter-city bus service, Dumas wrote he was "pleased about the development of the relationship between AMC and the province," pledging "a new approach to provincial relations."
Dumas also echoed Pallister’s contention about "selling the rights of future generations."
Pallister said he had a positive chat with Dumas earlier this month, but insisted he was offering the same things anyone else would get, including the Métis, such as compensation for adverse effects and land usage.