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MMF and Manitoba Hydro Strike a Deal

The Manitoba Métis Federation and Manitoba Hydro have each signed on to a Revitalization Agreement.

Worth $120 million, the Revitalization Agreement states that Manitoba Hydro will be pay the Manitoba Métis Federation over the next 50 years. The purpose of the agreement is to address the effects Manitoba Hydro projects have had on the Métis over their decades of operation in the province. The agreement also acts to ensure clear channels of communication between the two entities during future projects conducted by Manitoba Hydro.

A joint statement released August third says “the revitalization Agreement includes commitments to establish a long-term Revitalization Fund, a defined forum for ongoing dialogue between Manitoba Hydro and the MMF, the formal processes for working together on future Manitoba hydro developments.”

Bruce Owen -Media spokesperson for Manitoba Hydro- explained in an interview that hydroelectric development has affected Métis and indigenous hunting rights and has also had a great affect on culturally significant land of the Métis. The purpose of the agreement, according to Owen, is to recognize and rectify these damages.

“The signing of a Revitalization Agreement puts us on a new and long overdue pathway,” said MMF President David Chartrand in the joint statement. “It represents a positive step toward reconciliation and building a strong working relationship with Manitoba Hydro. Together, we are committed to working to build the energy future for all Manitobans in a sustainable way, by collaborating early on in planning and development to protect against adverse effects.”

The Agreement will begin with a payment of $40 million which will be used to start a “revitalization fund.” Annual payments will begin at $3 million, later reducing to $1.1 million per year.

“While efforts to strengthen our relationships have been ongoing for some time, the signing of the Revitalization Agreement formally acknowledges our commitment to address the legacy of our historic projects with the Red River Métis,” said CEO and President of Manitoba Hydro Jay Grewal in the joint statement. “It’s a vital step forward in our long- term relationship with the MMF and I’m pleased we were able to work together to achieve such an important milestone.”

This is the most recent agreement made by Manitoba Hydro with an Indigenous nation regarding land use, prior damages and project consultation. Hydro has made several similar agreements with First Nations pertaining to these issues.

It is worth noting, however, that not every Indigenous community directly affected by Manitoba Hydro projects has been able to cut a deal, let alone one so lucrative.

In recent history Sagkeeng First Nation took Hydro to court after Hydro failed to consult the community before beginning construction of a 213- kilometre 500-kilovolt line to Minnesota. Sagkeeng First Nation lost the court case and work on the $490 million Manitoba-Minnesota Transmission Project was finished in June 2020. Compensatory discussions between Sagkeeng First Nation and Manitoba Hydro remain unseen as of writing.

A look Back to 2018

As for the agreement made with the Manitoba Métis it has been a long time coming.

In 2014 the MMF and Manitoba Hydro settled on the “Turning the Page” agreement which would have been a payment of $20 million to the MMF over 20 years at $1 million per year. The payments were meant to cover the cost of research studying the impacts of Hydro projects, particularly the BiPole III Transmission Project, a 1,388-kilometre transmission line completed in July 2018.

Then Premier Brian Pallister cancelled the agreement in 2018. A clause in the agreement, of which participants were the MMF, Manitoba Hydro and the province of Manitoba, allowed each party involved to withdraw which would cancel the agreement entirely.

In March of that same year Pallister withdrew the province from a deal made in 2017 between the MMF and Hydro worth $67.5 million. Payments were set to be $1.5 million per year for 20 years with a $37.5 million lump sum payment which would have been placed in a trust fund.

After withdrawing from the deal, Pallister referred to the payment as “hush money” for a special interest group (the MMF). Pallister stood by this stance in the following days, saying the province would not involve itself in investments to buy a group’s silence.

MMF President David Chartrand was not shy about his opinion.

“Why in the hell would you make that decision? What guided you? Is it vindictiveness? Do you want to get revenge on the Métis people because they stood up against you?” Chartrand said after Pallister’s decision to cancel the agreement.

Pallister stood by his decision and gave no apology for his comments.

Pallister’s decision and comments roused many at the time. Nine of the ten members of the Hydro Board of Directors resigned soon after. While the cancellation of the agreement was the final straw, former board chair Sandy Riley said the premier had refused to meet with the board on multiple critical issues, this being the final one.

Chartrand promised he would take this fight to the courts. Before long the Manitoba Métis Federation launched a lawsuit against the province. They argued the cancellation of payments was an unconstitutional violation of Indigenous rights.

“We are not going away,” Chartrand said. “[Pallister] is. His time is coming.”

After the Court of Queen’s Bench declared the province was within their rights to cancel the deal the MMF brought an appeal before the Supreme Court of Canada. In March 2022 the SCC decided not to hear their appeal, siding with the province.

The New Deal

From then to now, the situation couldn’t be more different. The courts and provinces are no longer an obstacle for the MMF to overcome as they have made their deal with Manitoba Hydro at long last.

Conversations between the two groups have been behind closed doors for several years. Despite the Manitoba government previously deciding to withdraw, Hydro and the MMF continued communicating on the subject.

It is unclear how similar the current agreement is to the deal signed in 2017 for $67.5 million. If this agreement is similar to the one Pallister cancelled in 2018, all that will have been accomplished by his decision was a delay of the inevitable.

Chartrand applauds the Stefanson government for their willingness to allow the agreement to go through unimpeded. After such a rocky road with the previous premier Chartrand and the Métis nation are grateful to finally reach a deal.

“It’s a good day for Manitoba. It’s a good day for the Métis, and it’s a good day for everyone,” Chartrand said in an interview with the Free Press Thursday. “It will change people’s lives.”

In the long term the agreement ensures MMF support for Hydro projects so long as there are “no adverse effects to our people.”

“If it does,” Chartrand explained, “then we’ll come back to the table and we discuss our positions.”

Chartrand has thus far stated the MMF will be starting a sports program to support young Métis athletes. This is to be the first major investment made with the initial lump sum payment. The total cost of this specific project has not been released. The MMF has not stated how much will be allocated for this project.

– Matthew Harrison, U Multicultural

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