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Pallister doubles down on Hydro: ‘I’ve been criticized for being too hands-on and not hands-on enough’

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. File / Global News

The Premier and the former board chair at Manitoba Hydro continue to battle back and forth, following the board’s mass resignation earlier this week.

Sanford Riley said Premier Brian Pallister refused to meet with them to discuss some major proposals surrounding the future of Hydro, including a payout of nearly $70 million to the Manitoba Metis Federation.

“I’m personally very disappointed. People learn from each other, and I’m mystified as to how we got to this place,” Riley told 680 CJOB’s Richard Cloutier.

“I’m mystified as to why the views and opinions of the people on the board have not been sought out, and in fact there’s been active pushback. This is not how I envisioned myself making a contribution to the province, but I feel I have an obligation to call out non-productive and very harmful operations at the government level.”

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Pallister reiterated his position on 680 CJOB Friday morning, saying he wanted to wait until a hearing into Hydro’s proposed rate hikes was finished before meeting.

“If I meet with Sandy Riley in the middle of that, I’ll be accused of meddling in that process. We had already proposed to meet with Mr. Riley after the PUB makes its decision because that would be the right time to do that.”

READ MORE: MMF accuses Premier of ‘race card’ tactics after Hydro board payment called ‘persuasion money’

Despite Riley’s claim that the last time he had a meeting with the Premier was Oct. 2016, a year ago, Pallister said that he’s had more contact with this board than any other government board since he took office.

“This issue stems from a desire to pay $70 million to a group, to sell their future complaints, on projects they don’t even know what they are yet,” Pallister explained.

“This is without precedent, so stalling that and researching it was the right thing to do. If we had let that go ahead, right now, you’d owe not only $70 million more, but how much would we have to pay David Chartrand to not protest the outlet on Lake Manitoba?”

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He also disagreed with the notion that the board quit because they feared for their jobs.

“Mr. Riley told the board that we had lost faith in the board. This is not true. Mr. Riley said we were going to fire everybody. That’s not true, either. So why did the people resign? This is the problem I have with this. Our minister, certainly, communicated with the board we didn’t agree with that proposal, but I think that’s our job.”

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Manitoba Hydro is currently $16.4 billion in debt. That’s projected to reach $25 billion within the next two to three years, one reason why Hydro has requested a nearly 8 per cent hike in rates – a proposal that is currently before the Public Utilities Board.

READ MORE: Manitoba Hydro seeking 7.9% rate hike

Riley said the proposed deal in question with the Manitoba Metis Federation is not unique; past agreements with Indigenous groups are publicly listed on Manitoba Hydro’s website.

“In recent years, there have been a number of cases at the Supreme Court of Canada that have significantly augmented and firmed up the legal position of the Metis people of Manitoba,” Riley explained. “We were presented with a negotiated agreement to approve, which we liked for the province of Manitoba because it was a long-term agreement that covered a multiplicity of issues.”

MMF president David Chartrand has called on the Premier to resign over the beef with the board, and Friday released a statement reiterating his position.

“Premier Pallister’s antics and storytelling this week have made Donald Trump look like a pillar of stability and truth,” the statement reads. “I would recommend that he take the weekend to get his story straight or at least make up a plausible one. Manitoba Metis and all Manitobans are smart people: we see through deception and tall tales being told by tall men.”

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Chartrand added that the MMF could take legal action against the government.

“Let me be clear: the law and the Constitution of this country apply equally in Manitoba. The days of the Crown being able to deny Metis rights, deceive us and willfully break promises made to us Indigenous people—without legal consequences—are over. The MMF will turn to the courts to uphold the honour of the Crown if the current Manitoba Government has none.”