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Province failing to consult indigenous people on $3-B road, Métis leader says

DAVID LIPNOWSKI / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS FILES</p><p>An aerial view of the future site of a bridge over Pigeon River at Berens Lake. This stage of the east-side road project will link Berens River First Nation to Bloodvein First Nation to the south.</p></p>

DAVID LIPNOWSKI / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS FILES

An aerial view of the future site of a bridge over Pigeon River at Berens Lake. This stage of the east-side road project will link Berens River First Nation to Bloodvein First Nation to the south.

The Manitoba Metis Federation is prepared to seek an injunction blocking the ongoing construction of a $3-billion all-season road in northeast Manitoba.

Relations between the federation and the East Side Road Authority — the government authority created to build the road — have been strained for years, with East Side refusing to consult with the Métis on plans for the costly and expansive project, said federation president David Chartrand.

“I have spoken to (Manitoba Premier Brian) Pallister and I have raised this with (Infrastructure Minister Blaine) Pedersen, and their position at this point in time, their legal position, is the Métis do not have rights in this area. So (do) they want to test that? It will be a bad move on their part and a costly move for the taxpayer,” Chartrand said. “If they want to go down that road, then we’ll go down that road with them and go to court.”

Chartrand isn’t alone in his concern with the project and its management. Issues with the East Side Road Authority are expected to be flagged in a report to be released this fall by the province’s auditor general.

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The Manitoba Metis Federation is prepared to seek an injunction blocking the ongoing construction of a $3-billion all-season road in northeast Manitoba.

Relations between the federation and the East Side Road Authority — the government authority created to build the road — have been strained for years, with East Side refusing to consult with the Métis on plans for the costly and expansive project, said federation president David Chartrand.

"I have spoken to (Manitoba Premier Brian) Pallister and I have raised this with (Infrastructure Minister Blaine) Pedersen, and their position at this point in time, their legal position, is the Métis do not have rights in this area. So (do) they want to test that? It will be a bad move on their part and a costly move for the taxpayer," Chartrand said. "If they want to go down that road, then we’ll go down that road with them and go to court."

Chartrand isn’t alone in his concern with the project and its management. Issues with the East Side Road Authority are expected to be flagged in a report to be released this fall by the province’s auditor general.

As an efficiency measure, the road authority was dissolved within the first month of Pallister coming into office in May and was absorbed by Manitoba Infrastructure. Even with that department calling the shots, Chartrand said the Métis still remain outsiders on the project.

Since 2009, the road authority had been working to build a permanent network connecting Berens River and other First Nations on the east side of Lake Winnipeg — more than 36,000 people — to the outside world.

The project will result in more than 1,000 kilometres of road being built in the province, divided into two major areas. The Manitoba government has been spending more than $75 million annually for last seven years on the road project. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau made a campaign promise to help fund the mega-project, but, so far, no specific dollars have been allocated from Ottawa.

While significant consultations have occurred with east-side First Nations and hundreds of millions of dollars given in construction contracts to at least 10 of those First Nations, no provincial money has flowed to the Métis people.

Chartrand argues the province is failing in its constitutional obligation to consult with indigenous people when projects will impact the lives and lands of aboriginal people. His concern lies specifically with the next phase of the project: 94 km to Poplar River from Berens River.

"Our rights do exist there, we have Métis that use that land, we have Métis that are part of that land," Chartrand said.

A June report prepared for the federation by Guelph, Ont.,-based consulting firm Shared Value Solutions found within the geographical area where the all-season road will be built, there were 41 locations of cultural importance to the Métis, 318 hunting spots, and 122 fishing locations, as well as several Métis homes.

It concluded there was a "failure to appropriately consider and include Métis people and effects on Métis rights and interests" by the now-dissolved road-authority in the upcoming construction phase.

A request for an interview with Pedersen was denied but, in a prepared statement, the minister said he is awaiting the publication of the auditor general’s report on the road authority.

"Manitoba’s new government has rolled ESRA’s (East Side Road Authority) operations into the department of infrastructure in order to bring about efficiencies while ensuring centralized co-ordination of all provincial infrastructure projects," he said, without addressing any concerns about consultation with Métis people.

kristin.annable@freepress.mb.ca

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Updated on Wednesday, August 24, 2016 at 9:45 PM CDT: Formatting.

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