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Most of Manitoba Hydro board quits in feud with provincial government

All of the members of Manitoba Hydro's board, with the exception of one government-affiliated member, quit March 21 amid friction between the electricity utility and Premier Brian Pallister over a proposed payment to a Metis group.

Nine of the 10 members of the Manitoba Hydro-Electric Board announced their resignations in a March 21 statement. Only Cliff Graydon, a member of Pallister's ruling Progressive Conservative party, kept his seat on the board. While the board of the province-owned utility blamed stonewalling from Pallister for the mass resignations, the premier said the real issue was his government's refusal to pay C$70 million to the Manitoba Metis Federation to ease approvals for the Minnesota-Manitoba transmission line. In the statement the board said Chair Sanford Riley was about to be removed by the government.

"For over a year we have attempted to meet with the premier to resolve a number of critical issues related to the finances and governance of Manitoba Hydro, including matters related to Hydro's efforts to further develop its relationship with Indigenous peoples," the board statement said. "Despite repeated attempts we have not been able to have a meaningful dialogue with the government and we have reached an impasse. We have been informed the government intends to remove the chair and has therefore lost confidence in the board. Accordingly we have determined that it is necessary to resign."

The Metis are people of Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal heritage whose rights in land and resource issues are similar to those of First Nations groups. The Minnesota-Manitoba transmission line, a proposed 500-kV network that would carry power from the province's massive hydroelectric projects to the U.S. border at Minnesota, is considered essential for Manitoba Hydro to recoup cost overruns at its projects through export revenue.

SNL Image

Manitoba Hydro's Keeyask hydro facility is one of several projects tied to power exports to the U.S.

Manitoba Hydro photo

At a news conference in Winnipeg, the provincial capital, Pallister said the dispute that led to the resignation was "payment to a group in an attempt to make the process on the Minnesota-Manitoba transmission line go smoother and we don't agree with that payment." He said the payment at issue was "approximately [C]$70 million but it could be far more." Pallister said he would describe the payment as "persuasion money" and the payment would have had broader implications for government agencies.

ALLETE Inc. subsidiary Minnesota Power Inc. is building a 500-kV line, called the Great Northern Transmission Project, in Minnesota as a continuation of the Manitoba portion of the line and has a contract with Manitoba Hydro for 350 MW from hydroelectric resources beginning in 2020.

In a separate March 21 statement, Manitoba Metis Federation President David Chartrand accused Pallister of using "race card" tactics on the issue. He said canceling the agreement with the federation would lead to project delays and litigation.

"The former Manitoba Hydro board reached an agreement with the federation that finally respects Metis rights in this province, advances reconciliation and saves the Manitoba taxpayers millions of dollars in unnecessary litigation and delays to much-needed hydro projects," Chartrand said. "Now, Premier Pallister will likely cost all Manitobans, including Manitoba Metis citizens who pay hundreds of millions in taxes to the province each year, triple that in project delays, litigation and damages. All Manitobans should question the path this premier is taking us down."