October 23, 2020

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Pallister claims he's in the dark over actions by Hydro subsidiary

RUTH BONNEVILLE / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS FILES</p><p>Premier Brian Pallister counts himself among those confused by internal directives at Manitoba Hydro International that recently went public.</p></p>

RUTH BONNEVILLE / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS FILES

Premier Brian Pallister counts himself among those confused by internal directives at Manitoba Hydro International that recently went public.

Premier Brian Pallister says he’s among those confused about whether Manitoba Hydro International is winding down its operations, after internal directives to curtail its work went public.

"I want some clarity on it, too. I’m concerned, because I believe Manitoba Hydro belongs to all Manitobans," Pallister told the Free Press on Monday. "I think Manitobans deserve more clarity… on what it is they’re after here."

MHI, a profitable subsidiary of the province’s largest Crown corporation, does international hydroelectric consulting work. It employs about 125 people.

However, Hydro confirmed last week it has put MHI "into a non-aggressive approach for new business development" during an external review by a third party.

The confirmation came only after a leaked internal memo to staff, declaring "MHI is not to aggressively pursue new work... actively pursue bids or seek out new customers" for a month.

MHI has also barred any new contracts that can’t be cancelled within three months, which is the vast majority of the subsidiary’s work. In January, the PC government ordered Hydro’s telecom branch, which is part of MHI, to stop preparing a bid for a lucrative data-network contract.

Meanwhile, some employees say managers have advised them to look for work opportunities elsewhere — despite Crown Services Minister Jeff Wharton’s office saying the province isn’t looking to privatize MHI.

Pallister said Hydro has gone billions over-budget on former projects without enough transparency, and argued the Crown corporation should be more upfront with the public.

"I’ve heard some cursory commentary through the media, but we try to let Hydro’s board and Hydro do their job," Pallister said.

dylan.robertson@freepress.mb.ca

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