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Opinion

Ex-Hydro chairman refutes premier

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 25/3/2018 (795 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

It was an honour to be appointed chairman of Manitoba Hydro by the new government in 2016, and to serve alongside an incredibly talented group of women and men. The problems facing Hydro at that time, arising from a decade of mismanagement, are well-documented. We worked diligently to solve those problems for the benefit of all Manitobans.

Unfortunately, Premier Brian Pallister continues to make inaccurate statements about the circumstances leading to our resignation, including misstatements in his March 24 column in the Free Press. As long as he continues to put out inaccurate information which misrepresents the actions and motivations of my fellow board members, I will continue to set the record straight.

BORIS MINKEVICH / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS FILES
Sanford Riley resigned as chairman of the Manitoba Hydro board on Wednesday. Eight board members joined him. The only member left was Cliff Graydon, a Tory MLA.

BORIS MINKEVICH / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS FILES Sanford Riley resigned as chairman of the Manitoba Hydro board on Wednesday. Eight board members joined him. The only member left was Cliff Graydon, a Tory MLA.

In Mr. Pallister’s Saturday column he writes: "The Hydro board resigned once our government’s directive became clear. They cited a lack of access to myself and our government, but this situation did not arise because of a lack of communication between the Hydro board and the government."

This is untrue. The directive in question was issued on Wednesday, March 21, but after the board resigned. The truth is, the board was having serious discussions about resigning long before the Manitoba Metis Federation directive. This was because of our inability to communicate with the premier on the serious policy issues facing the Crown corporation. When we engaged at the ministerial and adviser levels, we were told we needed to talk to the premier. When we tried to talk to the premier, he was unresponsive.

Second, he says: "I myself committed to meeting with the board immediately following the Public Utility Board’s decision on Hydro’s rate application. It would be inappropriate for me to meet with the board before that, as it would open both sides to accusations of attempting to influence a quasi-judicial process."

This is just wrong. We did not, and would never, attempt to communicate with the arm’s-length PUB outside of the normal regulatory process. The truth is, we were asking to meet with the government’s senior decision-maker to get feedback, and hopefully alignment, on the serious issues before the board. The major decisions we were facing had significant public policy implications and required input and leadership from the elected officials who appointed us. The premier’s refusal to engage put the board in an untenable position. This had nothing to do with the PUB process and everything to do with avoiding responsibility for the challenges at Hydro.

Barbara Biggar’s opinion column of March 24, Hydro-showdown fuse burning for months, also contains a number of inaccuracies, starting with the underlying premise, which must have been communicated to her by the premier, that the premier felt "blindsided" by my public comments in 2017 about the policy options available to protect ratepayers and safeguard Hydro’s credit rating.

In fact, the premier was not blindsided. In the weeks before my public comments, several members of the Manitoba Hydro Board, in groups or individually, had a number of meetings with four different senior advisers to the premier and a cabinet minister. They engaged with us on a number of options to address Hydro’s financial issues, with a particular focus on a debt-for-equity conversion to enhance the balance sheet of Hydro. The first we became aware of the premier’s opposition to this approach to protecting ratepayers came through the premier’s comments in the media.

If the premier really was blindsided, he needs to ask his advisers and former minister why, and how, this breakdown occurred within his government. The fact that the premier’s public comments were at odds with what his advisers were saying privately also made the board realize that we needed to engage with the premier directly. Hydro is Manitoba’s largest Crown corporation. All Manitobans should expect that a serious communication breakdown within the senior levels of government regarding Hydro would try to be resolved.

A new board is in place, and I wish them the very best as they work to address the critical challenges facing Manitoba Hydro. They are committed members of the community and I know they will give their very best efforts on behalf of our province.

They will be able to count on the support of a very talented management team and committed, hard-working employees. They will have the encouragement of MLAs and cabinet ministers as well as the diligent scrutiny and support of senior officials.

It’s time to move forward with the task of fixing Hydro, with the best interests of Manitobans at the forefront.

Sandy Riley quit as chairman of the Manitoba Hydro board March 21.

RUTH BONNEVILLE / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS FILES
Premier Brian Pallister answers questions about the Manitoba Hydro board's resignation after question period in the legislature Thursday. The premier and Sandy Riley are engaged in a public war of words over the decision to quit by nine board members.

RUTH BONNEVILLE / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS FILES Premier Brian Pallister answers questions about the Manitoba Hydro board's resignation after question period in the legislature Thursday. The premier and Sandy Riley are engaged in a public war of words over the decision to quit by nine board members.

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