Why bother coming to Winnipeg? That was a question discussed among members of the Senate energy committee who are planning a cross-country tour and are trying to shorten their itinerary.
"Is there something we’re going to learn in Winnipeg that we’re not going to learn in Saskatoon?" Sen. Paula Simons asked her colleagues recently about the upcoming tour to gather information that will help to reform how Ottawa approves energy projects.
Sen. Yuen Pau Woo carries some weight as the head of the Independent Senators Group, which is helping organize the road trip that will look at proposed changes to Bill C-69, also known as the Impact Assessment Act. From Ottawa, he suggested that while other provinces get a personal visit from the committee, perhaps Winnipeggers could "testify by coming here and by video conference."
With all due respect to senators Simons and Woo, Manitoba’s capital city is a worthy destination for any national discussion of energy projects.
It’s possible the slight to Manitoba comes from an honest ignorance of this province’s unique energy concerns. Ms. Simons is from Alberta and Mr. Woo is from British Columbia, so their experience of this province may be restricted to the view from jet-aircraft windows as they fly over Manitoba en route to the velvety confines of Ottawa’s Red Chamber.
On the ground, the energy sector in Manitoba has geographic and economic attributes that are distinct from those of other provinces.
Manitoba’s foremost energy concern is hydro power. The changes to Bill C-69 that the Senate may approve are supposed to add clarity to how energy projects are assessed for environmental and Indigenous-rights concerns.
Manitoba has a huge investment in hydro projects, about $14 billion in recent years that includes $8.7 billion in the Keeyask generating station. It’s crucial to Manitoba’s economy to off-load this debt by selling hydro power to other jurisdictions. This means building transmission lines in areas that can be environmentally sensitive and subject to rights negotiations with Indigenous people, a lesson learned in the $1-billion cost of rerouting the Bipole III transmission line.
Bill C-69 would appear to let federal ministers decide which Manitoba energy projects fall under Ottawa’s regulators. For example, Premier Brian Pallister is concerned the bill would let Ottawa claim jurisdiction over a transmission line that sits solely within Manitoba, but crosses over a federal waterway.
Another aspect of the bill Mr. Pallister noted is that Manitoba’s flood-prevention measures could be held up because the bill requires large infrastructure projects to get federal environmental assessments. He noted this could delay or halt Interlake outlet channels meant to prevent a repeat of Manitoba’s disastrous 2011 flood.
The part of Bill C-69 that has garnered the most national attention — including yellow-vest protests and a truck convoy to Ottawa that grabbed headlines — has been concerns that the required assessments will impede pipeline projects such as the Trans Mountain expansion.
When it comes to oil, Manitoba has relatively little pipe in the game. But Manitobans care deeply about flood-mitigation channels and hydroelectricity expansion.
A question for Ms. Simons: since she thinks people in Saskatoon could perhaps speak for their neighbours in Manitoba, would she be inclined to let the committee’s tour bypass her home province and rely on the pipeline-averse environmentalists of B.C. to speak for Alberta? Probably not.
The Senate committee should include Winnipeg on its tour. It would surely get an earful.