Canada's most prominent environmentalist didn't mince words Friday when he slammed Hugh McFadyen's Progressive Conservatives for wanting to build the new Bipole hydro transmission line through one of the last intact wilderness areas in North America.
A blunt-talking David Suzuki said the topic should not be a political issue.
"If the planet in which we live, the very things that keep us alive, become a political issue, we're screwed. We're absolutely screwed," Suzuki said at the Manitoba Legislative Building. "We're talking about the life-support systems of the planet. How can that possibly be a political issue?"
Suzuki was one of almost 40 dignitaries and media in the province this week to discuss protecting the boreal forest and learn about Manitoba's bid to have 43,000 square kilometres of land on the east side of Lake Winnipeg designated a United Nations World Heritage Site.
"As places like this, large intact ecosystems, become rarer and rarer, their value becomes even greater, because it's a hedge against our stupidity and our ignorance if we still have those areas intact," he said.
The political fight over the UN designation has to do with Manitoba Hydro's proposed Bipole III transmission line. In 2007, the NDP ordered Hydro to build the line down the west side of the province rather than the shorter and less costly route down the east side of Lake Winnipeg.
PC Leader McFadyen has said if he's elected premier in the Oct. 4 election, he'll build the line down the east side without compromising the UN bid. A new line will deliver more electricity to southern Manitoba and growing export markets in Minnesota and Wisconsin.
McFadyen said Friday he had no argument with Suzuki.
"In terms of the need to save the boreal forest, David Suzuki is right," McFadyen said, adding the west-side route chosen by the NDP is 500 kilometres longer than the shorter east-side route.
"The west-side line goes through the heart of the boreal as well," he said.
Suzuki said the value of the land on the east side is beyond economics.
"The issue is, it seems to me, the protection of that particular area," he said. "How you drive your lines in then has to be based on maintaining the integrity of that area."
Premier Greg Selinger said Suzuki's support puts the UNESCO bid into perspective. "The point he makes is that you can argue and bicker about the numbers, but we're talking about a priceless asset."