The cross-examination portion of the National Energy Board (NEB) hearings came to a close last Friday, the 22nd of June, at the Delta Hotel in Winnipeg.
Legal representatives of Indigenous First Nations stood before the NEB to question Manitoba Hydro on the construction and consultation process of the Manitoba-Minnesota Transmission Project (MMTP). Pursuant to First Nations’ concerns in relation to the proposed MMTP connecting Minnesota and Manitoba, answers on behalf of Manitoba Hydro seemed insufficient and lacking concrete deliverables.
Throughout the course of the week’s hearings, a lack of genuine concern about complex issues raised by First Nations could be felt from the scripted responses of Manitoba Hydro representatives. While it is evident that Manitoba Hydro took Indigenous concerns into considerations, the extent to which they did can be fiercely debated.
Many First Nations’ concerns related to the land and included: herbicide use, damage to animal habitats, soil, and vegetation, plant rejuvenation, and changes to the land once the transmission line is completed. Responses by Manitoba Hydro representatives about these issues, when pressed, remained superficial, failing to consider the deep cultural and spiritual connections First Nations have towards their traditional lands. One major cause of concern is that the use of herbicides in one area could lead to the spreading of said herbicide in other areas, affecting valuable medicinal plants.
When questioned on its outreach procedures, Manitoba Hydro came up short. Only 25 out of the 63 First Nations in Manitoba were contacted about the project. Manitoba Hydro argued that the information and project updates are readily available to those groups that “show interest” or seek that information online. However, without actively contacting these First Nations, it is obvious that not all impacted communities could know about the project. For some communities, especially in Northern Manitoba, internet and cell service are not readily accessible as they are in southern towns and cities. It is clear that the understanding of access to information seems to be lost on Manitoba Hydro, especially when it comes to consulting with Indigenous communities.
At one point, the NEB chair questioned the jurisdiction of regional First Nations organizations to disseminate information on Manitoba Hydro’s behalf, wondering if that would suffice the Crown’s duty to consult. This was then challenged by one of the intervenor’s lawyers, arguing that the sole responsibility lies with the Crown.
“I don’t want to paint all Indigenous people with one paintbrush,” stated one Manitoba Hydro representative. This statement seems highly contradictory when it comes to Manitoba Hydro’s outreach process. Throughout the Hearings, Manitoba Hydro claimed that its outreach process on project updates and dissemination of information was, and is, “highly inclusive,” they also admitted that the monetary benefit packages offered to the communities were not tailored to the different First Nations and their unique concerns, but rather were more of a take it or leave it blanket offer.
Having the opportunity to voice concerns about treaty rights, consultation processes, environmental degradation and devastation, and socio-economic issues to a federal body regarding a provincial project was a unique opportunity for all intervenors of the MMTP. At the end of the day, it is hoped that the Hearings result in a comprehensive, in-depth study of Manitoba Hydro’s integrated system. The siloed approach to project approvals of an interconnected system has resulted in devasting impacts in Manitoba’s North which can no longer be ignored.
If the NEB finds that the transmission line is not in the public’s interest, construction will be stopped. If the line is found to be in the public’s interest, the board has the ability to place restrictions and conditions on the line’s construction. The NEB is expected to make a final decision on the transmission line by March 2019.
Below you can find some of the outcomes from the NEB Hearings, including the documents prepared by the community members and researchers involved with the hearing, as well as access to the transcripts and an article.