OTTAWA — The Liberals have turned to a former Supreme Court justice in the hopes of salvaging the troubled Manitoba Hydro line to Minnesota.
The Liberals have commissioned former Supreme Court judge Frank Iacobucci to advise on the Manitoba-Minnesota Transmission Project, suggesting both the hydro line is a priority for Ottawa, and it is at risk of long delays.
Meanwhile, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is scheduled to sit down today in Ottawa with Manitoba Premier Brian Pallister, who requested a meeting about the stalled project.
The $453-million line aims to export some of Manitoba’s overcapacity of hydroelectricity by June 2020, to offset Hydro’s debt and to lower carbon emissions.
Earlier this month, the Liberals delayed their decision on whether to approve the project over Pallister’s spat with the Manitoba Metis Federation. That prompted First Nations to come forward with their own concerns about not being adequately consulted.Click for FN Letter
Pallister insists the province went above and beyond its requirement to speak with Indigenous communities and try assuaging their concerns.
The premier has said he’s open to compensation for adversely affected communities, but cancelled a 50-year, $67.5-million deal between Hydro and the MMF a year ago, calling it "hush money."
That cash was in exchange for the MMF not contesting the project during its assessment process.
First Nations such as Roseau River now say neither the province nor Ottawa made a serious effort to hear their concerns, which largely surround treaty land claims that have languished for decades.
Long Plain First Nation formally withdrew its support of the project April 30, according to a letter obtained by the Free Press, which is marked "private and confidential."
The federal Liberals are considering beef up the National Energy Board’s final conditions on the project, which Pallister warns could mean delays.
Ottawa currently has until June 14 to decide on whether to give the green light — a deadline it could extend for a third time.
Adding 12 months to the proposed construction timeline would cost taxpayers $200 million, the premier has said.
Yet, Ottawa fears a last-minute court ruling that blocks the Hydro project, similar to a judge’s finding last August that halted the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion.
That ruling prompted the Liberals to appoint Iacobucci to oversee pipeline consultations. Federal sources said the government has also asked him to advise on their approach to the Hydro line negotiations.
Southern Chiefs’ Organization Grand Chief Jerry Daniels, who represents the Manitoba’s southern reserves, said First Nations want half the profits or royalties from the transmission project.
Government-to-government means that we need to be in a partnership; we’re not (only) consulted after the fact," Daniels said, arguing the First Nations should be at Wednesday’s meeting. "It’s going through our territory.
To avoid lawsuits and injunctions, Ottawa must be able to demonstrate the federal and provincial governments exercised their "duty to consult" by trying hard enough to get Indigenous buy-in, even if the project proceeds without First Nations and Métis support.
Provincial NDP Leader Wab Kinew said he’s confident the project will proceed, though he felt Pallister might speed up the process by meeting regularly with the impacted Indigenous communities instead of "launching attacks through the media."
Kinew said Pallister has been "needlessly antagonistic" with Trudeau — but also blamed the Liberals for inconsistently funding for treaty-land research bodies. Those groups help First Nations advance land claims, which they can use to establish hunting zones and businesses.