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This article was published 14/6/2019 (396 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
OTTAWA — The federal government has approved Manitoba Hydro’s transmission line to Minnesota; but it’s unclear whether the project can proceed without the reinstatement of a multimillion-dollar deal with the Manitoba Métis Federation.
Local First Nations will also try to halt the Manitoba-Minnesota Transmission Project through lawsuits.
"This is a very good project and we have taken our time, an appropriate amount of time, to make sure this project can proceed in the right way," federal Natural Resources Minister Amarjeet Sohi told the Free Press early Friday.
"We have worked hard to ensure our duty to consult has been fulfilled."
The Liberals have amended five of the conditions set out by the National Energy Board for the project, including to implement "all commitments made to Indigenous groups."
The $453-million transmission line would transmit some of Manitoba’s excess hydroelectricity to Minnesota by June 2020, to offset Hydro’s debt and to lower American carbon emissions.
The modified conditions require Hydro to work with First Nations and Métis over the loss of Crown lands and wetlands, and to file regular reports to a monitoring committee on the conditions set out by both the NEB and the Manitoba Clean Environment Commission.
Ottawa will also create a "terrestrial and cultural studies initiative" to support Indigenous-led research on how the project impacts things such as traditional practices and hunting.
It has also tasked Environment Canada with monitoring fluctuating water levels in Lake of the Woods, an issue raised by northwest Ontario First Nations.
The project underwent provincial consultations and was approved by the NEB, but this year the federal Liberals twice extended their deadline to approve the project, which was the final hurdle before construction.
Ottawa had cited Premier Brian Pallister’s spat with the Manitoba Metis Federation in making its second extension, a month ago.
The MMF has vowed to try stopping the project in court, after Pallister ordered the cancellation of a 50-year, $67.5-million tentative deal, calling it "hush money."
The money was in exchange for the Métis not contesting the transmission project during the assessment process, which would prompt an unprecedented undertaking to determine land rights.
Sohi said the deal was "an issue that is not within the scope of the consultation process." His department did not respond by deadline when asked if the project now hinges on the $67.5-million deal, which MMF president David Chartrand argued was the case.
"Either they sit down and do it right and it’s a win-win for everyone, or if not, you’ll see the president of Hydro asking for an increase in rates," Chartrand told reporters Friday. He’d previously threatened to sue the Liberals if they green-lighted the project.
"The olive branch is there, premier. I’m willing to sit down."
The MMF said it will drop its court cases if the province restores two existing funding agreements.
Manitoba Sustainable Development Minister Rochelle Squires cited those lawsuits in choosing not to answer whether Friday’s approval is contingent on the scrapped MMF deal.
"We are wanting to work with everyone who is interested in seeing this project proceed," said Squires, who expected construction to begin shortly.
She said she was "incredibly optimistic" the province fulfilled its consultation duties with the Métis and First Nations. "We’re very pleased to be working with all partners in moving this forward."
Not everyone was so happy. Treaty 1 First Nations vowed Friday to block the project by suing the federal and provincial governments over longstanding land grievances.
"We now have no choice but to oppose the project in the courts," wrote Treaty 1 spokesman Dennis Meeches, the chief of Long Plain. He claimed the Pallister government cancelled a Thursday meeting with senior Hydro executives over the treaty land issue, after the Free Press reported on the negotiations.
Crown Services Minister Colleen Mayer would only say she’s "rescheduling a meeting for a later date, to continue building on the relationship and these productive conversations," in an email.
Sohi said there is no plan to appoint a federal negotiator to deal specifically with southern Manitoba’s treaty-land issues, which was a demand some First Nations chiefs put forward.
— with files from Alexandra Paul and Larry Kusch
Updated on Friday, June 14, 2019 at 9:08 AM CDT: Corrects typos
8:08 PM: Final version.
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