Bipole Debate is Charging Manitobans Up: Investing in First Nations on east side saves more

Commentary, Aboriginal Futures, Joseph Quesnel


It’s the issue that won’t go away.
A recent poll by Probe Research revealed that of those Manitobans who care to follow the Bipole III debate more than half believe it is a mistake to build a hydro line down the west side of Lake Winnipeg.
They would have preferred to have the $1.1 billion transmission line built down the east side. This was the option that was deemed by most observers to be cheaper.
But in a bid to protect boreal forest and declare it a UN world heritage site, the NDP government opted for the west side.
The province’s desire to increase hydro export sales is laudable, whichever route is taken, but the public is convinced one option is better than the other.
My colleague Don Sandberg, an aboriginal policy fellow at the Frontier Centre for Public Policy, has argued that the savings to be gained from building Bipole III on the east side could be put towards improving an all-weather road system in this region.
If roads and infrastructure could be built on the east side for this transmission line, it would make sense to invest in an all-weather road system. We always speak glowingly about this gorgeous boreal region, but who is actually able to visit it?
Expanding the all-weather road system would provide economic activity to these isolated First Nation and non-aboriginal communities and would allow people to visit these areas.
Opening up the rivers and lakes of the Island Lakes region could prove to be a boon for First Nation communities who could invest in eco-tourism.
Investing in infrastructure for these isolated communities would offset some of the added transportation costs they face due to their location.
This will not eliminate the need for winter roads and some communities will continue to face significant economic challenges, but it could provide hope.
This is not necessarily a political issue, given that is not clear whether any of the political parties could capitalize on these sentiments. According to the Probe Research poll, a clear majority (59%) of respondents were ignoring the whole debate. Naturally, one would think the Conservatives could benefit from this finding as they have supported the east side line, but the poll reveals the debate is not charging up Manitobans. Many likely feel the debate has been resolved so they have moved on.
That is a sad reality given that the issue is important and can impact the future of Manitoba, especially for isolated northern communities. Perhaps Manitobans are ignoring it because it is not something they perceive to directly impact them or their families. Out of sight, out of mind.
But, Sandberg argues Manitobans should visit these areas to see the potential of these pristine forests. Developing the east side could benefit all Manitobans.
The debate is actually not over. Manitoba Hydro has yet to announce its preferred route for the line.
This will be followed by a final round of public consultations.
This is where Manitobans who oppose this need to get the public on their side and charge them up.
Otherwise, it is a done deal.
First appeared in The Winnipeg Sun.