Winnipeg's top cop has weighed in on a bitter dispute between the Manitoba Metis Federation and the provincial government led by Brian Pallister, describing the province's actions as "arbitrary."
In a speech to the MMF annual general assembly over the weekend, Winnipeg Police Service Chief Danny Smyth delivered a stinging rebuke of the premier's confrontational style, without once mentioning him by name.
He noted the previous board of directors of Manitoba Hydro resigned en masse "after a change in direction on compensation to the Métis people" imposed by the Progressive Conservative government.
"I don't have any inside information on this matter, but the decision to me seems rather arbitrary," Smyth said of Pallister's decision to block a deal that would have had Hydro pay the MMF $67.5 million over 50 years.
"It’s unfortunate that the courts will be asked to determine whether this was a binding agreement or not. I find it curious that the lawyer representing the province felt she was in a position to tell the courts that the Métis people had not explained how they would be detrimentally affected by future hydroelectric development," Smyth told an audience of 3,000 at Assiniboia Downs.
"So it leaves me wondering if people have really grasped the lessons of our shared history. Arbitrary decisions that necessitate court proceedings don’t exactly scream inclusion. It tells me that there is much work to be done in our journey of reconciliation."
The Free Press obtained a video recording of the police chief's speech Tuesday. Smyth declined an interview through a police spokesperson.
A spokeswoman for Pallister said it would be inappropriate for the government to comment on a matter that is before the courts.
"I appreciate his candour and recognize his unwavering commitment to the Métis people." – Winnipeg police chief Danny Smyth on MMF president David Chartrand
The MMF has taken the Pallister government to court for scuttling two separate compensation agreements it had with Manitoba Hydro, totalling more than $82 million.
In addition to the $67.5-million deal — which Pallister once described as "hush money" — the province, MMF and Manitoba Hydro, in 2014, reached an agreement, called Turning the Page, which provided payments of $1 million a year to the MMF for 20 years as compensation for past and current Hydro development on Métis land.
The PCs terminated the agreement last November, but not before $5 million had been paid out.
In an interview Tuesday, MMF president David Chartrand called Smyth's speech insightful, courageous and "very visionary."
"I was quite taken. I had a smile on my face," he said.
The Pallister government's policy is to litigate rather than negotiate, Chartrand said, even as appellant courts have lectured governments to work out deals with Indigenous peoples rather than to rely on jurists to settle matters.
Chartrand said Smyth, as the leader of the Winnipeg Police Service, is undoubtedly worried the men and women who serve under him might find themselves dealing with protests and blockades if Indigenous issues are not properly addressed through negotiation.
"That's when things can really explode. It's better to be progressive or proactive," he said.
While Pallister has repeatedly gone out of his way to criticize Chartrand, Smyth said he's broken bread with the Métis leader and seeks his advice.
"I appreciate his candour and recognize his unwavering commitment to the Métis people," the police chief told the audience.
Quoting a commissioner with the former Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada, Smyth said: "You can't reconcile with strangers."
In his address, the police chief said the last time he saw Chartrand was at an airport in June, when the Métis leader was on his way to Juno Beach to participate in ceremonies in France marking the 75th anniversary of D-Day.
"It was nice to see such a large contingent of Métis leaders and government officials there to honour the many Métis soldiers who fought for Canada," Smyth told the crowd.
Chartrand's nemesis, Pallister, made headlines for not attending the largest event during the D-Day celebration, meeting instead with representatives of the French agribusiness giant Roquette. The premier attended other, smaller D-Day commemorative events.
Larry Kusch didn’t know what he wanted to do with his life until he attended a high school newspaper editor’s workshop in Regina in the summer of 1969 and listened to a university student speak glowingly about the journalism program at Carleton University in Ottawa.