Manitoba’s Hydro Board Resigns & What That Means

By Manitoba Energy Justice Coalition (originally published on MEJC’s website on March 22nd, 2018)

On March 21st 2018, there was a mass resignation of the Manitoba Hydro board citing an inability “to have a meaningful dialogue… despite repeated attempts” with the Pallister government and challenges related to the finances and governance of Manitoba Hydro including its attempts to rectify relationships with Indigenous peoples affected by generating stations.

After the election of the current Progressive Conservative government in Manitoba, the existing Manitoba Hydro Electric Board was removed and replaced with an entirely new board appointed by the newly elected Pallister government.  This new board is made up of 6 people who seem to be directly involved with the Progressive Conservative Party of Manitoba as illustrated by their financial contributions since 2005:

  • Sandy Riley: $18,960.25
  • Earl Edmondson: $1,090.00
  • Steven Kroft: $15,270.00
  • Michael Pyle: $8234.00
  • Allen Snyder: $522.00
  • Dayna Spiring $6,750.00

TOTAL: $50,826.25  (Source)

Premier’s Brian Pallister’s response to the news of the board’s resignation is of noteworthy concern.  His immediate placement of blame on Indigenous peoples, in particular the Manitoba Metis Federation (MMF), for the failed relationship between the government and the board is a seriously problematic response.  At a time when Canada is discussing and pushing towards reconciliation, this use of “race card tactics,” as President David Chartrand of the MMF described it, brings about questions regarding the government and Premier Pallister’s goals for relationships with Indigenous peoples.

We are concerned that this decision is one step towards the privatization of Manitoba Hydro.  Manitoba Hydro’s operations throughout Manitoba have been immensely destructive to the environment and the livelihood of Indigenous peoples across the province.  If Manitoba Hydro is privatized, it could lead to even worse relationships with Indigenous peoples, could prevent reconciliation between non-Indigenous and Indigenous Manitobans, and that Indigenous Manitobans, particularly in northern Manitoba, could be faced with even greater destruction and lack of consideration or consultation in future generating station projects.  With the privatization of Manitoba Hydro, the population of Manitoba will lose the accountability that is currently required of Manitoba Hydro as a public utility. Priorities will shift to pure profit for shareholders and the little current concern for the environment will be replaced with concerns for profit and profit alone


How unusual is it for a Crown corporation board to resign en masse from the government that appointed it?

Retired University of Manitoba political scientist Paul Thomas says, as far as he can recall, it’s unprecedented. “I can think of no instance where there has been a mass resignation from a board of directors of a Crown corporation in Manitoba. I can’t even think of one in another jurisdiction, either Canada or another province.”

What is the political fallout for the Pallister government?

“It’s a serious political problem… Hydro is a big, big presence in the Manitoba economy. It employs a lot of people…When you appoint somebody as intelligent, as well-respected and principled as Sandy Riley as board chair…you shouldn’t take him for granted. You should respect his judgement and his expertise…It says something about the availability of the premier and his communication style that he couldn’t find time to meet with Sandy Riley, such an important business figure in this province.”

What effect will the mass resignation have on Manitoba Hydro’s application to the Public Utilities Board for a 7.9 per cent rate hike in electricity rates?

It will not affect this year’s rate decision, says PUB secretary and executive director Daren Christle. He said the rate application and public hearing have concluded and a PUB panel is currently deliberating. “The new Manitoba Hydro board may choose to submit a general rate application next year which looks different than the one that has been presented by Manitoba Hydro in this hearing, but this is only speculation,” Christle said. “A new Manitoba Hydro board cannot withdraw the current application at this point in time. I’m not aware of any precedent.”

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Will the resignations have any effect on the way lenders and bond-rating agencies view Hydro?

Premier Brian Pallister dismissed the idea the resignations would make lenders nervous. “Don’t inflate the importance of that. I understand bond-rating agencies very well. Bond-rating agencies care very much about the management at Manitoba Hydro. The board (of directors) is very secondary to that concern. Don’t over-inflate the importance of this.”

What is the Manitoba-Minnesota transmission project?

It is a proposed 500-kilovolt power transmission line that would run from the Dorsey converter station northwest of Winnipeg to the village of Piney at the American border, where it would link up with a U.S. transmission line. The 213-kilometre, $453-million project – currently undergoing a federal assessment – would expedite power exports to the United States.

What are the potential ramifications of the project being held up?

Crown Services Minister Cliff Cullen said Wednesday delays in completing the project have “the potential” to cost Manitoba Hydro money. Asked whether the cost of delays could surpass the $70 million in payments that Hydro had planned to set aside for the Manitoba Metis Federation, he said, “The potential exists for that.”

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