Provincial Opposition Leader Hugh McFadyen will spend two months touring rural and urban communities next year to muster support for what he says is the greatest policy blunder in Manitoba’s history — the decision to build a hydroelectric transmission line down the province’s western flank.
Since the $2.2-billion project was announced, McFadyen has become one of its most vocal opponents, arguing instead for the line to take a shorter, less expensive route through eastern Manitoba.
In fact, McFadyen said Monday he would stake his political future on the issue.
Following a breakfast speech to about 75 people at an event by a Winnipeg-based think tank, the Frontier Centre for Public Policy, the Progressive Conservative party leader said he would turn the effort to convince Manitobans to build a transmission line east of Lake Winnipeg, into the foremost political issue of the following three years, essentially until the next provincial election.
“We’ve got to take this story directly to Manitobans,” McFadyen said. “What we plan to do in the next number of months is to visit some of the communities around Manitoba that may have an interest in (the new transmission line).”
McFadyen said he also planned to talk to Manitoba Hydro ratepayers in Winnipeg.
In September, Premier Gary Doer surprised many people by agreeing to a plan to build the Bipole III transmission line west of Lake Winnipegosis, at a distance almost 500 kilometres longer, and a cost $1.5 billion higher than a similar line east of the province’s major lakes, critics said.
The new transmission line, years on the drawing board, is meant to meet new consumer demand in this province as well as potential hydroelectric contracts in Canada and the United States.
In his speech, McFadyen touched on the arguments against the west side project that he has made frequently: he called the extra spending unnecessary and the government foolhardy for pandering to American and Canadian environmental lobbies by avoiding eastern Manitoba.
He also raised the matter of the hydroelectric project’s legacy by saying future Manitobans will pay for today’s decisions.
“A generation of politicians, Gary Doer’s generation, are making decisions which may seem attractive in the short-run to some people but will leave the costs to the next generation,” McFadyen said. “So, I think it’s up to our generation, those younger than us, to fight to ensure that the legacy that’s left to us is a legacy of a better province not a province saddled in debt.
“If the government sticks to the course that they’re on now,” he added, “I believe it will be the number one issue of the next election campaign and the number one issue of the next three years because of the fact that it’s a decision that will impact on everything that we do in our province: our ability to build roads, hospitals, schools, reduce taxes. All the other things that we might want.”
Bob Foster, an engineer and consultant, said he had worked on many Manitoba Hydro projects in the past and believed many of the province’s engineers consider the east side route to be the wiser choice for a large transmission line.
“We’ve already seen in the media some reaction from the engineering community,” he said. “I think there might be more support for an east side line from the engineering community than has so-far surfaced.”
Foster said the province could spend any money it would save on a transmission line east of Lake Winnipeg on health care, education or aboriginal community needs, and he urged McFadyen to make the east-west issue one of the highest-priority matters at the Legislature.