Persuasion Money at Hydro?

Brian Giesbrecht, Commentary, Crown Corporations

Every member of the Manitoba Hydro Board, with the exception of Conservative MLA Cliff Graydon, resigned on March 21, 2018 over a dispute with Manitoba Premier Brian Pallister. According to Pallister the board resigned because the province won’t agree to a $67.5 million payment to the Manitoba Metis Federation to smooth the process on the Minnesota-Manitoba transmission line.

The outgoing board chair, Sandy Riley, gave different reasons for the resignation, citing a refusal by Pallister to meet with him to discuss the very serious problems facing Hydro. Pundits appear to be siding with Riley, but that does not take away from the need to discuss the issue of the Metis Federation, and a long list of other Indigenous groups, seeking enormous amounts of money from Manitoba Hydro – in effect, using it as a cash cow.

The latest group to sue the province is Sagkeeng First Nation. Their argument is that they were not properly consulted about the Manitoba-Minnesota transmission line, and they want damages. There will likely be other similar lawsuits. How much are the demands of these interest groups contributing to Hydro’s massive debt?

The Premier’s refusal to pay what he called “persuasion money” was challenged by Manitoba Metis Federation President, David Chartrand, who vowed to go to court to get what he wants – a monetary award that would “respect Metis rights.” In effect, Chartrand is threatening to tie up Hydro projects in the courts until he gets the money that he wants.

Chartrand is doing nothing wrong. He believes that Metis people should have the same kind of special financial privileges that other Indigenous groups enjoy.  (Although many people of Metis origins are acutely embarrassed by the idea that Canadian taxpayers are being required to subsidize them, only because of their ethnic backgrounds,)

Exactly how much of Hydro’s unsustainable debt consists of money that has been, or will be spent or transferred to Indigenous communities in one way or another is probably in excess of $1,000,000,000 to date.

Manitoba is not alone when it comes to Metis and First Nations groups seeking large monetary settlements from both levels of government, crown corporations, and private companies as a condition precedent for allowing virtually every type of resource development to proceed. Everything from hydro development, to pipelines, mining, lumber and transportation routes are considered fair game. British Columbia is particularly ripe for the picking, but most parts of Canada will be increasingly vulnerable to demands for this “persuasion money”.

In fact, the current Hydro – Manitoba Metis Federation debate could represent the future of resource development, in a country that stands or falls on resource development – either pay the price demanded by an almost endless list of groups, or find yourself at the whim of one of the new breed of judges steeped in the “share the land” approach to treaties that has been so successfully promoted by Indigenous advocates since 1982.

And by the way, our leaders in 1982 would be appalled to learn that the vastly expanded treaty and Indigenous rights now claimed as a birthright by all these groups is gaining acceptance. It is exactly what they tried so hard to prevent from happening.  They knew how harmful it would be for the country. Those strong leaders, like Pierre Elliott Trudeau and Sterling Lyon stood for a united country, with equal rights for everyone. The “duty to consult” the Supreme Court enunciated, that has morphed into the “persuasion” money Pallister finds so distasteful, would be anathema to them.

Ironically, it is a federal government now lead by his son Justin that is making things so much worse. He announced plans to introduce legislation to give the Indigenous advocates exactly what they want – permanent apartheid, based on racial lines, with an obligation on every Canadian to “share the land”. All of the fanciful interpretations relating to treaties and constitutional rights dreamed up by Indigenous advocates, with very high priced legal help, since 1982, will become the law of the land, if Trudeau is successful.

Make no mistake –“share the land” means “pay rent forever”, and a veto on development for every group, no matter how tiny. The only business of these communities will be to stop a project from proceeding, citing environmental concerns – only allowing it to proceed when their price is met.

The staggering sums of money Canada now spends on the Indigenous file are symptomatic of the current federal government’s preoccupation with race, gender and identity politics – at a huge cost to Canadians, Indigenous and non-Indigenous. America, Asia and much of Europe are actively removing barriers that hinder economic activity. Our government is doing the exact opposite. At one time, Canadians enjoyed one of the highest standards of living in the world. It is now steadily declining.

Manitoba Hydro’s future is uncertain.

So is ours.