By Louis Young
As former Chief of one of the First Nations on the east side whose community would be directly affected by the BiPole III power transmission line, I take great exception to Jim Carr’s March 22 opinion piece.
It was only 34 months ago that the voters in Manitoba made a definitive choice in electing a government with a clear position against the construction of Bipole III through the east side. Breaking the government’s election promises and putting the Bipole routing decision in the hands of three unelected “distinguished” Manitobans would be fundamentally undemocratic and a betrayal of voters throughout Manitoba. I am sure the Business Council of Manitoba would be equally offended at the suggestion that three east side First Nations residents be handed responsibility for determining whether or not Manitoba’s budget challenges should be addressed by raising business taxes.
It is deceitful to suggest in a column that claims to be about “the provincial budget” and “the government’s spending plans for the year,” that finding savings on a project that will not begin construction until 2012 could somehow help balance the 2010 budget. Further the construction of Bipole III will not be paid for by taxpayer funds; it will be paid by Manitoba Hydro’s export customers who are projected to buy $20 billion in power from Manitoba over the next two decades.
Even if reversing this decision would help balance the budget, would it really make sense to solve a short term problem by irreversibly building an 800km transmission line through a boreal forest that is part of the largest remaining stand of intact forest in the World.
Mr. Carr asks why a road is acceptable but a transmission line is not. For people on the east side, an all-weather road connection is a necessity that will provide direct social and economic returns. Bipole III would provide no lasting benefits; it is a compromise to the area’s that cannot be justified.
We the people who have lived on the eastside before Manitoba was even a province tend to view our world a lot differently than Mr. Carr. Our worldview is one where the land and the people are one and if you hurt or destroy one you harm the other. It is a world view where everything is connected to one another and the point is to find balance. This sustainable world view is sorely missing in this day and age. Educating Mr. Carr is far beyond the scope of this letter. We would be happy to spend time with him if he were willing to learn.
While Mr. Churchill might have a point, we First Nations people too have wise statesman and one offered this advice: “When all the trees have been cut down, when all the animals have been hunted, when all the waters are polluted, when all the air is unsafe to breathe, only then will you discover you cannot eat money.”
Billion dollar bungles
By Jim Carr
Tuesday’s provincial budget will reveal the government’s spending plans for the year. There will be some belt-tightening, maybe some tinkering with the balanced budget law and other modest changes to a formula that has kept the NDP in power for 10 years. What the budget won’t include is a plan to rethink two costly commitments that could total nearly a billion dollars.
The first major item is the decision to build a transmission line carrying northern power to southern markets down the west side of Lake Manitoba, instead of following a much shorter path down the east side of Lake Winnipeg. The government has clung to its position because it fears customers in the United States, the legislatures of Minnesota and Wisconsin in particular, will either back out of power deals or negotiate better prices if the hydro line is built through the boreal forest. Anxiety over international environmentalists parading on the grounds of the Manitoba legislature and arousing green activists everywhere gives the government heartburn. What’s more, the government line argues, First Nations communities on the east side will keep Manitoba Hydro in the courts for a decade and the line will never be built.
Opponents of the west side option argue there will be litigation wherever the line is built, on the west side because of treaty land entitlements and private property issues. If the government made a serious effort to gain consensus among the east-side chiefs, the international activists wouldn’t come near us. As to the pristine boreal forest, the government has already committed to building a road up the east side of Lake Winnipeg, a far more intrusive project than a hydro line.
The punch line is that the longer west side route, because of greater distances, power line losses and flood plain risks, will cost $600 million more than the east side option. At a time when we’re counting pennies, why are we not counting hundreds of millions of dollars?
There is a way out. The Business Council of Manitoba has recommended the government ask three distinguished Manitobans who are familiar with the issue to report back within three months with a preferred way to proceed.
The second big-ticket item is the decision to remove nitrogen from Winnipeg’s waste water system to help clean up Lake Winnipeg. The provincial government is following a recommendation of the Clean Environment Commission. This is controversial because a significant and respected collection of scientists says that phosphorus is the culprit, not nitrogen and that removing nitrogen will not help the lake, and, some argue, may actually promote unwanted blue-green algae growth. The City of Winnipeg says nitrogen removal will cost an additional $350 million in capital expenditures and $9 million annually in operating costs.
The government argues the nitrogen should be removed now and the “precautionary rule” dictates that we give the benefit of the doubt to removing a potentially damaging substance.
The business council believes that until the science is more persuasive, an expensive decision to remove the nitrogen should be shelved. Take out the phosphorus. We believe cleaning up Lake Winnipeg should be a priority and the provincial government is best positioned to convene a basin-wide group of interested parties to begin implementing a serious effort to get the job done.
These two issues, positioning the hydro line and cleaning up Winnipeg’s waste water, offer the government room to save Manitobans a significant financial burden at a time when equalization payments from Ottawa are uncertain, tax revenues coming out of recession are unpredictable and demands for public services are unrelenting.
Excessive partisanship is a recipe for bad public policy. When political parties dig themselves in, there is a tendency to view the world in stark terms; black and white; us and them. As the government works its way through tough decisions, it might want to keep Winston Churchill’s words in mind: When the facts change, I change.
Jim Carr is the president and CEO of the Business Council of Manitoba, a group of 69 CEOs of Manitoba’s leading companies.
Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition March 22, 2010 A13