Government throws farmers under bus
Published in August, 2017
As his government piles on debt leaving ratepayers with massive hydro rate hikes for years to come, Premier Brian Pallister hopes voters forget Hydro’s BiPole lll boondoggle.
One group of Manitobans not about to forget the BiPole lll disaster is farmers living with the project’s disastrous impact in their backyards. They are known as the Manitoba BiPole lll Landowners Committee, (MBLC) — not to be confused with the grassroots (anti) BiPole Coalition, the group formed in summer 2013 by farm families finding themselves in the path of the misguided transmission line.
MBLC was co-founded by Midland MLA and now PC infrastructure minister Blaine Pedersen. Soon after being elected, Pedersen threw the disgruntled landowners under the proverbial bus. While most MBLC members would have been happy to see the project cancelled, the group’s goal was to either have the line routed away from Manitoba’s most fertile farmland, or, at minimum, get fair compensation for the project’s disruptions. MBLC urged Hydro to respect landowners’ right to negotiate a mutually beneficial agreement.
But, in the largest expropriation in Manitoba history, over a hundred farm families had their land seized, forcing them to participate in the government’s money-losing electricity export scheme.
Turning back the clock to before the 2016 election, then-Opposition leader Pallister expressed outrage over Hydro’s actions while attending MBLC town halls (jointly hosted by Pedersen and the Canadian Association of Energy and Pipeline Landowner Associations).
Pallister promised that, if elected, he would halt the project and hold a public inquiry to either scrap BiPole lll, re-route it, or, at minimum, do right by farmers and negotiate a fair financial settlement.
Pallister and Pedersen campaigned on protecting property rights. But, a funny thing happened after last year’s PC election victory: Pallister and Pedersen soon vanished from the BiPole lll file, calls and emails from farmers and other interested groups went unreturned.
Pallister then, contrary to his pre-election promises, proceeded with the BiPole lll boondoggle — just as former Premier Greg Selinger planned. Pallister claimed, after spending tens of millions and wasting six months on a Boston Consulting report, that the project was “too far along to turn back now.”
The Pallister-Pedersen disappearing act continued, but with a bizarre twist. After the National Energy Board (NEB) announced plans to review Hydro’s Minnesota line, needed to complete BiPole lll’s transmission to the US market, Pedersen suddenly reached out to landowners.
He said Hydro wouldn’t negotiate with the farmers through MBLC/CAEPLA. Instead, Pedersen recommended a lawyer of his liking to represent property owners. The recommended lawyer also represents major industries opposing Hydro at an ongoing Hydro rate application before PUB. Troubling, indeed.
Why is a member of the Pallister cabinet undermining the legal bargaining agent of a landowners’ group he himself founded? Why is Pedersen soliciting business for a lawyer involved in PUB Hydro hearings to win a settlement that could benefit his farm family from the government he serves? When did Pedersen replace Ron Schuler as Hydro minister? MBLC reports only two landowners have taken Pedersen’s advice and consulted with his handpicked lawyer: the infrastructure minister’s own brothers. As infrastructure minister, Pedersen is also responsible for the Land Values Appraisal Commission (LVAC), which is the last resort for expropriated landowners.
Conflict of interest? Scandalous?
Graham Lane leads Manitoba Forward, www.manitobaforward.ca