November 9, 2018
By Don Norman
The Advocate recently received information regarding the payouts that the Manitoba Government is making to dozens of different municipalities, First Nations and communities that are on or near the path of the Manitoba Hydro’s Bipole III transmission line. It’s part of Manitoba Hydro’s Community Development Initiative program (CDI). The information isn’t readily available. We had to submit a Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act (FIPPA) request.
The payments are made annually and amount to $52.4 million over the next 10 years and the annual disbursements range from $3,000 to $233,000 and are calculated in accordance with a set formula that is based upon a community’s population and its proximity to the transmission line. Funds provided under are to be used for community development projects that benefit a broad segment of the community and fall into one of the following categories: Promote environmental sustainability; Promote resource rehabilitation or development; Promote cultural or social development; Provide training, employment, or economic development in the community; and Develop community infrastructure.
There are a few things that are troublesome with these payments.
Last month, the province cancelled a deal that was to provide the Manitoba Metis Federation $20 million over the next 20 years in exchange for their support for Manitoba Hydro projects, including the Bipole III Transmission line. And you might remember that earlier this year, the province cancelled another deal with the MMF for $67 million that caused the entire Board of Directors of the crown corporation to resign.
From Premier Pallister’s perspective, the payments amount to paying the federation for not participating in the environmental review process. “The Métis federation and all Métis Manitobans have the right to participate in processes. They fought hard for those rights and we respect that. Enough to make sure we won’t make payments to stop them from exercising those rights, now or in the future,” he said.
Now, spun that way, I don’t necessarily disagree with his logic. Manitobans elected a conservative government and it should be of no surprise that they are a little tight with the purse-strings. It’s what we expect of a conservative government. But how does that wash with the table below?
The bureaucrat who supplied us with the information was careful to clarify that the payments made under the CDl are not compensatory in nature. “The CDl is a non-obligatory initiative established by Manitoba Hydro to provide benefits to communities located near the Bipole III transmission line.” Hmm… that doesn’t sound like someone being tight with the purse strings. Why wouldn’t Pallister step in to stop those payments? They aren’t paying for the inconvenience of being close to a transmission line; they aren’t paying for potential negative health effects; it’s not even “persuasion money” as Pallister described the MMF funds.
So are we to believe it is just a voluntary fund that the crown (ie, accountable to taxpayers) corporation is handing out as a feel-good measure? It’s a head scratcher, for sure.