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SSNS Home > Check This First > News > Aboriginal News > Economic Development

Aboriginal News:
2. Economic Development


Economic Development is key to the effective integration of Aboriginal People into the mainstream. The following articles are designed to illuminate current economic issues affecting aboriginal communities. Critical analysis aims at raising questions to encourage effective approaches to economic development so that prosperity and independence can be assured in the future.

    • Partnerships are essential to economic well-being, and Aboriginal entrepreneurs are looking at ways of connecting with the world. To become economically independent, aboriginal communities need to be able to produce goods and services that others will purchase. This process involves partnerships with lending agencies (banks, government loans, grants) to acquire start-up capital for the production of goods and services, and partnerships with buyers to market those goods and services. Without them, little can happen.

    • BiPole III, a future hydroelectric transmission line from Northern Manitoba, was to travel down the east side of Lake Winnipeg and ensure the construction of a much needed all-weather road to the region. A political decision to move it to a longer, more costly route on the west side of Manitoba has raised concerns about the impact that decision will have on economic development in eastside Aboriginal communities.

      • Articles:
      • Archived Articles:
        • 9 November 2006: “Water World: Lakeshore life no picnic at the beach for roadless First Nations”
        • 9 September 2007: “First nations upset over power line route"
        • 2 October 2007: “Doer’s west-side sellout”
        • 3 October 2007: Tory slams landmark deal with reserves”
        • 5 October 2007: “Right choice on east side”
        • 7 October 2007: “Look at us, World: Manitoba pitches boreal forest as UNESCO site”
        • 7 October 2007: East side story – from soap opera to farce”
        • 9 October 2007: “Power line on west side is a huge mistake”
        • 10 October 2007: “First Nation rebuffs minister again”
        • 10 October 2007: “It’s not easy being green: but Doer gets by as a pragmatic environmentalist”
        • 13 October 2007: “East side advantage: If developed properly, it is superior to west side option”
        • 17 October 2007: “More chiefs oppose west-side decision”
        • 2 December 2007: “Manitoba should reconsider west side power line”
        • 11 January 2008: “Keep east side pristine”
        • 12 January 2008: “Defence of west side weak”
        • 15 January 2008: “Nostalgia doesn’t help impoverished east side”
        • 22 November 2008: “Activists hail park logging ban” Doer government’s decision came out of the blue”
        • 3 December 2008: “Park decision bashed”
        • 8 December 2008: “Bands get east-side planning authority: Bill paves way for world heritage site”
        • 1 May 2009: “All-weather road set for east side of lake”
        • 9 June 2009: "First Nations threaten to snub bill: Unhappy with handling of act"
        • The Ryan Proposal: BiPole III Under Lake Winnipeg:
          • 9 February 2008: (Part 1) "Lake bottom line: Hydro transmission cable under Lake Winnipeg explained"
          • 10 February 2008: (Part 2) "From ship to shore: Two-kilometre train needed to move transmission cable"
          • 11 February 2008: (Part 3) "Barge at Gimli would lay cable in lake"
          • Reaction to the Ryan Proposal:
            • 13 February 2008: Letter of the Day: "Why No Analysis?"
            • 13 February 2008: Letter "Caution urged on scheme"
            • 6 May 2009: “Give the east side another look”
            • 24 May 2009: "Build electric monorail on east side: Train would follow path of Hydro corridor, be financed with savings on shorter route"
            • 25 May 2009: "What's wrong with this plan?"
            • 22 June 2009: "Extending hydro grid will be costly"
            • 19 September 2009: "West side hydro line corrosive: Doer's decision to block east side transmission like exposes metal infrastructure to failure"

    • Parks: What is the impact of parks (provincial, federal, world heritage) on Aboriginal economic development?
      • Articles:
        • 29 October 2009: “Heritage status could hinder area’s economy”
        • 14 October 2009: “Trust fund backs up UN heritage bid: Manitoba gives $10M to pursue special status for boreal forest”



14 November 2008: “Natives court Chinese investors”  [Winnipeg Free Press, A21; Canwest News Service]

Calvin Helin headed a delegation of around a hundred Canadian Native leaders that travelled to China in October 2008 in search of funding for economic development. Among the delegates from Manitoba were Grand Chief Morris Shannacappo, Chief Glenn Hudson of Peguis, Terry Nelson of Roseau River, and George Kemp of Berens River. Hudson, for example, was looking for “$280 million to build a hardwood plant that would create 800 new jobs.”

According to Helin, it was too soon to assess the success of the trip in dollars and cents, but “agreements had been signed with the province of Shaanxi and with the Chinese foreign affairs minister to explore investment opportunities.” He added that the Chinese were “particularly interested in the “natural resource-rich land controlled by aboriginals.” The big stumbling block here was the lack of “infrastructure to get access to those resources,” a problem that could be solved with partnership with China. In time, the trip could generate hundreds of millions of dollars, with British Columbia, the Northwest Territories and Manitoba the chief beneficiaries. A Chinese delegation was expected to come to Canada to assess the possibilities early in 2009.

Discussion: What did Helin mean by “natural resource-rich land controlled by aboriginals”? If he was including “traditional” lands, which are at present Crown lands, how might the Government of Canada react to the suggestion that the lands are “controlled” by First Nations? To what kind of negotiations could this lead?

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22 November 2008: “Natives, China talk trade”  [Winnipeg Free Press, B7]

This article by Martin Cash suggested that thirty, not a hundred, aboriginal leaders from across Canada made the trip to China. Southern Grand Chief Morris Shannacappo said it was gratifying to be given the same status as the provincial premiers, who also went on the trip. The Chinese were sympathetic to the Canadian aboriginal leaders, but Shannacappo said it remained to be seen what would come of it. Still, it appeared that Manitoba Metis had a deal to send China a test shipment of rough fish from Lake Manitoba. If the fish received a favourable response from the Chinese market, it could lead to additional shipments. According to Robert Gaudry, a member of a 20-member fishing co-op at St. Laurent, 88 km northwest of Winnipeg, they could come up with 20,000 pounds of fish during the ice-fishing season for the test load. These are fish (carp, mullet, silver bass, etc.) that the Fish Marketing Corporation has no market for at present. Even at 40 or 50 cents a pound, it would still be a benefit to the local community.

Discussion: There was no mention in the 14 Nov. 2008 article of provincial premiers being involved in the trade mission, just business men and aboriginal leaders, about a hundred of them. The second article said thirty were aboriginal. What does this tell the reader about the quality and accuracy of reporting in some cases? Why is it important to be wary?

The general public is understandably cynical about government missions to exotic places, especially when so many front-page stories have exposed the corruption associated with some of them. What positive developments occurred on this trade mission to dispel the suspicion that it was no more than a holiday overseas? Why are such trade missions vital to the health of the economy?

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22 October 2009: “Fish or cut bait: Fishers want to market ‘rough’ stuff abroad” [Winnipeg Free Press, A12]

Don Marks’ highly informative article on the fishing industry in Manitoba underscores the need for fishermen to establish new partnerships for the marketing of their fish. He began by stating that “Every year, Manitoba freshwater fishermen throw away thousands of tonnes of fish, enough, it is said to fill a one-mile square swimming pool to a depth of six feet.” Marks described this as a “staggering, shameful waste of a resource that Robert Gaudry recently demonstrated could be turned into hundreds of jobs and millions in income for aboriginal and other fishers. And – bonus points – it could spare the pickerel fishery from predation by invasive species like carp.”

What Robert Gaudry did was “to get a two-week exemption that allowed him to sell rough fish (carp and mullet) outside of the suffocating monopoly of the Freshwater Fish Marketing Corporation (FFMC).” As a result, he earned $80,000, “four times what he would have received from the government freshwater monopoly.” This prompted a meeting at Fairford on 22 September 2009 that brought together 400 people, who worked out a “list of recommendations for the federal government they say will get their idle boats back in the water, their vacant fishing sheds back to processing fish at full capacity and, most importantly, the unemployed residents of their communities working again.”

Marks provided background information on Manitoba’s freshwater fishery, so that readers could better evaluate his article. “The Freshwater Fish Marketing Corporation was established in 1969 to protect fishermen from being exploited and outright cheated by unscrupulous buyers…by forcing the sellers and the buyers to deal with one place.” It brought order to the fishing industry at the time, but in the forty years since its inception the industry has changed in ways that are detrimental to local fishermen.

What has happened is this. The corporation “has evolved in a way that restricts it to processing and selling high-end fish like pickerel and whitefish because world prices for these fish are high enough to cover the corporation’s costs and provide a reasonable return to the fishers.” The world prices for rough fish are “barely enough to recover processing costs” by the corporation, so there is little left over for the fishermen who actually catch the fish.

Instead of going through the Corporation’s processing plant, Gaudry took charge of the processing himself. He sold his catch to the Chinese for 41 cents a pound, when the Corporation would have given him a mere 8 cents a pound. He hired “unemployed adults and even some high school students and senior citizens in the communities of Lundar, Ericsdale and St. Laurent,” providing them with “meaningful, decent-paying jobs” that stimulated the local economy.

China has 1.3 billion, and they like to eat carp and mullet, so there is a “huge, stable demand” for Manitoba’s fresh water fish. By negotiating directly with buyers in China, our fishermen can bypass the Freshwater Fish Marketing Corporation and get additional money into their communities.

The federal government was represented at the Fairford meeting by MP James Bezan, who “promised to carry the fishers’ recommendations forward to federal Minister of Fisheries and Oceans Gail Shea.” Those recommendations illustrate just how wasteful and inefficient the present system is.

  1. The fishermen want the federal government to change the act to make it easier for them to obtain export dealers licences (EDLs) for carp and mullet. They can get EDLs now, but they are “difficult and time-consuming to arrange” and “restrictions placed on the ones that are issued” make it “difficult to operate.”

    For example, the fishermen have to identify “one point of entry to foreign markets.” If the entry point to the United States is Emerson, and it gets flooded, the fishermen have to get approval for another entry point from “the FFMC Board, which only meets once every two-to-three months.” By the time anything is done, the fish has spoiled!

  2. Fishermen like Robert Gaudry can’t develop their markets over the long-term because export dealers licences are only issued for one year. It’s hard to develop foreign markets, when there is no guarantee that the seller can get a licence for the following year. Therefore, the fishermen want longer-term licences.

It all seems so simple to change, but as Marks makes abundantly clear, all the fishermen get in response to their recommendations is “stalling and delay after delay.” Both the federal and provincial governments are involved. “The federal government barely recognizes the existence of a freshwater fish industry because the minister is always some east or west coast politician who is either fixated on or overwhelmed by the mighty Pacific or Atlantic oceans.” The FFMC hasn’t been “pro-active, either marketing rough fish, or helping the fishers arrange the changes they want to sell carp and mullet on a profitable basis.” It is “quite content to file annual reports which claim the industry in Manitoba is in fine shape, generating $62 million in revenue (despite the fact $30 million of this is eaten up by costs).”

The fishermen are fed up and plan to hold information meetings throughout southwestern Manitoba to show the general public that they can “double the size of this industry from $60 million to $120 million in the first year alone.” If enough people come on board, it will help get the federal and provincial governments to make the necessary changes to the system.

Discussion: What problems are revealed here about government-sponsored marketing agencies? What institutional changes need to be made to increase flexibility in the marketing system? Why is it so difficult to bring about change when federal and provincial governments and their bureaucracies are involved?

What are the pros and cons of free markets? Why do men like Robert Gaudry thrive in a freer market? How was he able to make a profit on carp and mullet, when the FFMC could not? What does this suggest about the operating costs and efficiency of the FFMC?

Marks suggested that the fishermen might have to dump rough fish on the grounds of the provincial legislature to make their point. What other action might they take to get their message out to the public and to government agencies?

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BiPole III

11 December 2009: “West Bipole more vulnerable; Extra danger of power loss, Hydro admits” [Winnipeg Free Press, A13]

Manitoba Hydro had a series of public meetings in late 2009 to get input on three western lines proposed for BiPole III. According to writer Bill Redekop, many people at the Open House in Winnipeg wanted a fourth option, namely “up the east side of Lake Winnipeg.” There are plenty of reasons why. Manitoba Hydro admitted at the meeting that the proposed western line would be “just 40 kilometres from the existing Bipole I and II lines for long stretches, meaning a storm could easily knock out all the lines.” Another problem is that all three proposed routes are to “loop around Lake Manitoba and Lake Winnipegosis, run east-west almost the width of the province from Winnipeg to the Saskatchewan border.” This is an issue because “East-west lines are the most susceptible to power outages because of the greater frequency of storms with northerly or southerly winds.”

Contrast this to the east side option. It would “run almost straight north instead of east-west for any portion” and it “would also be hundreds of kilometres from Bipole I and II, which run through the Interlake.”

Bob Morrison, an engineer with Consulting Electrical Engineers, dismissed the west side decision as “Gary [Doer]’s gift to the environmentalists,” and added that Manitoba Hydro “shouldn’t have kowtowed to the province.” According to Redekop, “Doer mandated that Hydro build the power line down the west side so efforts to establish a UNESCO World Heritage Site in wilderness forest east of Lake Winnipeg wouldn’t be jeopardized.” Morrison wasn’t the only one upset. Farmers from St. Claude were equally disturbed by the prospect of having the line cross their farms, where crop dusters have to fly low over the fields to do their jobs. Furthermore, the western routes will be “400 to 600 kilometres longer than an eastern route,” and early estimates suggested a western route would cost $410 million more than the east side option. At the end of 2009, the Conservative opposition claimed that cost estimate had risen to $640 million.

In spite of these negatives, Hydro is moving full speed ahead to decide on one of the three western routes by March 2010.

Discussion: In spite of an increasing number of reasons why BiPole III should be built on the east side, the government is moving ahead on the west side option. The government could have negotiated a revenue-sharing agreement with the sixteen aboriginal communities on the east side and provided them with some revenue for the ‘right of passage’ of BiPole III through their traditional lands. A precedent had already been set for this further north. The eastern bands had reason for hope, too, when the government passed legislation that acknowledged the claims of those communities to their traditional lands and implied that negotiations would be forthcoming. Yet this all appears now to have been window-dressing, lip service to an equitable process. After a few community meetings, the government concluded the people on the east side did not want BiPole III to pass through their traditional lands, even though subsequent protests from east side Chiefs showed this to be untrue. The government did promise a road, but with the funds allocated to its construction and the length of time designated to complete the project, it could be years before an all weather road is available to all the east side communities. It almost seems that the government had decided already what it was going to do, and masked its resolve by pretending to be inclusive. Perhaps this viewpoint is too cynical. What do you think?

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12 December 2009: “West side exposed to the myth” [Winnipeg Free Press, A20]

Hydro’s public meetings prompted a hard-hitting editorial from the Winnipeg Free Press. It challenged the government’s claim that “building a new hydro transmission line on the west side of the province” would be “less intrusive and destructive than if it were built on the east side.” It justified the extra $410 million it was going to cost because it would “save the boreal forest in eastern Manitoba and lay the foundation for the creation of a world heritage park.”

The editorial challenged these myths with the “facts” of the case as follows:

  1. Environmental preservation is an argument the government has used as justification for its decision. However, a western BiPole III will:

    1. “Mar the landscape for thousands of residents in western and southern Manitoba. It will cut across farms, creating a hazard for crop dusters and for migratory birds, as well as destroying the pastoral peace that makes rural life desirable.”
    2. Damage the farming community of St. Claude, regardless of which of the three proposed routes is chosen, and “one farmer said the 60-metre-wide right-of-way required by Hydro would cut across his farm from corner to corner, and he would also be forced to live with several towers on his land, since they are usually placed three to a mile.”
    3. Be far more “intrusive and destructive” that Bipole I and II, which pass through the “more sparsely populated and less well-travelled Interlake Region.” In contrast, it will go through the more heavily populated sections of the western route along “the borders of several parks, towns and villages.”
  2. The government claim that it wanted to “preserve the pristine wilderness on the east side” was described as “voodoo environmentalism” by the editorial writer because the government was “also talking about opening the east side to tourism and mining, as well as building an all-season road.”

  3. The government was afraid that “power exports might be in jeopardy if the province could not show that it was a good steward of the land.” The editorial suggested that instead of “kowtowing” to the environmental lobbyists in the U.S., the government should have “launched a campaign explaining that a transmission line on the east side was not a threat to the boreal forest, and that Manitoba would work with aboriginals to ensure that their needs were respected.”

The Free Press went on to say why the transmission line should go down the east side because it would:

  1. “Disrupt the fewest lives while helping the most.”

  2. “Create jobs for aboriginals in their own communities.”

  3. Build “a secure supply line” for the east side communities

  4. “Lower the cost of goods and services” for people there.

  5. “Open the door for development.”

The editorial added that public hearings should have been held before the decision had been made, and that “with hundreds of millions of dollars at stake, plus the untold benefits that could come if it were built on the East Side, it’s worth taking a sober second look.”

Discussion: Why is it important that newspaper editorials keep contentious issues like BiPole III in the public eye?

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10 January 2010: “Bipole III slated to cut an ugly strip through our beautiful valley” [Winnipeg Free Press, A11]

Every once in a while, there is a letter to the editor that says it all. The following letter by Cindy Murray is quoted in its entirety with her permission.

Dear Editor

I am making an appeal to your readership in regard to a Manitoba Hydro transmission line that may run through our valley or on top of it. This is Route A of Bipole III. If you drive west on Highway 16 to Minnedosa and turn north on No. 10, then drive through the Minnedosa valley and keep going north towards Riding Mountain National Park, you drive down into the valley to the bridge that crosses the Little Saskatchewan River.

As you are crossing the bridge and look to the west, you can see a little white church up on the hill. This is the valley I am referring to.

Manitoba Hydro plans to construct a new 500-kilovolt high-voltage transmission line from its generating complex on the lower Nelson River down to a new converter station east of Winnipeg.

A Manitoba Hydro study team has made three initial route selections after some public and stakeholder input. There was a public meeting in Neepawa and one in Shoal Lake. There was very little publicity announcing the meetings, so myself and our neighbours were not aware of them and did not attend.

One of the three routes is called Alternative Route A. This route runs southwest from east of Gillam, turns straight south just north of The Pas, runs through the east side of Apaskwayak Cree Nation. It then runs along the Saskatchewan border, through the Porcupine Forest Reserve and the west side of the Duck Mountain Forest Reserve. It then proceeds southward, swinging past the west side of Riding Mountain National Park.

South of Rossburn, it turns southeast and travels past Shoal Lake and Newdale, then goes straight east north of Minnedosa, until it takes a southerly swing northeast of Neepawa, where it carries on until it reaches the Riel Converter Station east of Winnipeg.

It shows the line running through this area just south of Rolling River First Nation. This is a concern, because this indicates it could be located in or on top of the valley.

This valley is used by hunters, fishers, canoeists and nature lovers. There are parts of it that have never been broken and have original prairie grasses and wildflowers such as our provincial flower, the crocus.

There is a 60-metre strip cleared and maintained under the transmission line, which means destruction of the natural habitat wherever the line is constructed.

Manitoba hydro has a map of all three routes on its website: www.hydro.mb.ca/projects/bipoleIII/

I would urge your readers to contact Manitoba Hydro’s senior assessment officer Patrick T. McGarry about this route and any concerns you may have with it. Manitoba Hydro, 820 Taylor Ave., Winnipeg, R3C 2P4. Ph: 1-204-474-3016. Email: pmcgarry@hydro.mb.ca

Cindy Murray

Discussion: What flaw in the consultative process is revealed in this letter? Why do you suppose that the western part of the province was not consulted prior to the government’s arbitrary decision to place the transmission line on the west side? This letter underscores the fact that the western part of the province is more heavily populated than the east side, meaning that there are significantly larger numbers of people affected by the proposed western routes. How could this create problems for the existing government proposal? What could citizens of Western Manitoba do to mobilise public opinion against this costly and undemocratic decision by the provincial government?


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22 January 2010: “Parties debate Doer’s detour: Bipole III will be election issue, Tory leader vows” [Winnipeg Free Press, B2]

A debate on BiPole III sponsored by the Canadian Club was held at the Fort Garry Hotel on Thursday, 21 January 2009. Liberal leader Jon Gerrard, Finance Minister Rosann Wowchuk, and Conservative Leader Hugh McFadyen all gave their viewpoints on what the Conservatives are calling “Doer’s detour.” According to Bruce Owen, the decision is already four years old, but it is as contentious as ever. Naturally, Wowchuk defended her government’s stand. She said reports on the decision were “inaccurate” and that “going back to the east side was impossible.” She claimed that “the heritage site application process” and “Hydro’s plans to finalize a final route” were “well underway.” Moreover, Hydro had to start building in 2013, if it wanted to be finished by 2017, “when power-export deals kick in with Wisconsin and Minnesota.” To add further delays could “jeopardize those deals and take away $20 billion in revenue for the province.” McFadyen disagreed. He said that there was time enough to make the required changes and that “Hydro did not have any internal information outlining threats to export sales if the new line was built down the east side of Lake Winnipeg.” Owen noted that a study released by Hydro in 2007 only said “It’s possible the lobbying of international environmental groups could delay the building of a line on the east side.” Jon Gerrard preferred a cable under Lake Winnipeg, but Wowchuk said that option had been studied and discarded because Lake Winnipeg was “too shallow and there are worries about what would happen to the line when the lake freezes up.”

Discussion: Consider the positions of each of the three political parties. Do you buy the argument that there is no time to change gears and return to the east side option? Is this simply a case of foot-dragging and government intransigence? Are the opposition parties putting up enough of a fight? Or are they dragging their feet as well? Based on this exchange, what conclusions might you draw about political leadership in Manitoba? Is “Doer’s detour” going to go down, as predicted by McFadyen, as “the biggest public mistake potentially in Manitoba history”?

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25 January 2010: “West side emperor starkers” [Winnipeg Free Press, A11]

Gerald Flood has written in the past on BiPole III. He began his January 25 article by stating, “It is an irony, I suppose, but the fact is that it wasn’t until former premier Gary Doer decided to move Bipole III to the west side of Manitoba that the vastly superior merits of the east side option became obvious.” From Flood’s perspective, Doer decided “to cave in to U.S. environmentalists without firing a shot,” after having “already pretty well mucked up the entire routing issue.” He did this even though he and Manitoba Hydro knew the east side was the better route. Flood described Doer’s consultation with the aboriginal communities on the east side as a “formless – gormless- process that went nowhere” and produced a “big, fatuous report, but nothing more.” Since Doer had “ordered that Hydro not be involved,” there were no offers made to the east side, so negotiations on a possible deal could not occur and the east side communities were left in limbo.

Because of the botched consultation process, the east side became “just a bunch of communities each without a collective vision or direction” and Doer could not rely on them as allies against the environmentalists who were “going to fight the idea [east side transmission line] on symbolic grounds.” Subsequently, in Flood’s interpretation, Doer “quit what he had started and forced Hydro to build on the west side. In other words, what he failed to win on the east side, he simply forced onto the west side.”

The result is that the province will have to spent [at least] $640 million more in construction costs for the west side option. And Flood says there is more.

That’s $640 million for nothing other than 450 kilometres of extra transmission line, more boreal forest destruction and payments to landowners, communities and First Nations for their co-operation. To top it off, the move exposes the line to more bad-weather risk and results in the line crossing the Red River flood plain, something Hydro hadn’t been prepared to do.

Flood commented on the all-party debate held on January 21, noting that Finance Minister Rosann Wowchuk and Liberal Leader Jon Gerrard both attacked Conservative Leader Hugh McFadyen for bringing up the $640, but the latter stood his ground that the east side transmission line would be cheaper to build. Flood is in total agreement, and his last paragraphs are worth quoting in full.

Why Liberals and New Democrats are so intent on wasting $640 million on the west or middle routes than using it to help isolated east side communities is a question that defies explanation. But it is shameful and stupid – no other word for it – to deny 60,000 east-siders a deal that could improve their impoverished lot.

The Free Press has long advocated that an east side line could provide a path for a road that would end east side isolation, bring down its air-freight fuelled cost of living and create development opportunities. It is impossible to believe that would not be a better use of a portion of the $640 million than throwing it away. McFadyen, in fact, pointed out that $640 million is enough to build 10 hospitals, 30 high schools and an entire university campus. At $200,000 a pop, it’s enough to build 3,200 houses. But no, our government is committed to simply throwing it away.

It has been argued that a road and transmission line are incompatible uses and that a corridor could prevent the east side being designated a world heritage site. Bt no less than the past president of the UNESFO process – Manitoban Jim Collison – says the line will not stop the designation, and the government itself is seeking to buy out three of the 16 east side communities by promising to someday build a road that will follow an existing transmission line.

No Clothes? Hah! The West Side Emperor is starkers.

Discussion: How many arguments did Flood bring up in favour of the east side option? What were the flaws he saw in the consultation process? Do you think Doer botched the consultation process or was it deliberate manipulation to give the east-side communities the illusion of having a say? Was it a “divide and conquer” strategy to mute the collective will of those communities? Where do we go from here? Is this a done deal as Wowchuk contends? Or can public opinion be mobilised to fight back?

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26 October 2010: “Farmers raise angry voices over hydro line” [Winnipeg Free Press, A12]

Larry Kusch reported growing resentment in Western Manitoba about the “government’s three-year-old decision to locate a massive hydro transmission line down the west side of the province.” A group of “angry farmers and engineers” were among about a hundred spectators that repeatedly interrupted a legislative committee meeting on October 25 over the government’s decision. The farmers were upset because the implications of such a massive project only hit home, when they had “received letters from Manitoba Hydro this summer informing them that BiPole III … would cross their properties.” Discussion: Considering how busy people are, is it surprising that the issues surrounding BiPole III had eluded these farmers until they received the letters? The government could argue that it had hearings in Western Manitoba, but were they held to obtain genuine input into decision-making or were they merely a forum to promote a decision already made? Also, were those hearings well publicised beforehand? And, what evidence is there that the government listened to the opposition arguments put forward during those hearings?

Niverville farmer Karen Friesen questioned how democracy was working in this province, when “government members of the committee shot down a Conservative motion [that] she be allowed to speak.” Friesen objected to the 500-kilovolt transmission line because:

  1. It bisected “the home quarter-section of her farm, which produces grain, poultry and hogs.” Discussion: How much land would a transmission line remove from agricultural use?

  2. She was “worried about the long-term impact it will have on the farm’s operation.” What could the presence of a transmission line have on the value of her farm property? Could it turn away potential buyers?

  3. She was also “concerned about the health and safety of her family.” There is evidence that people living close to power lines are more prone to cancer and other problems. Is this something about which she should be concerned?

Bob Brennan was present from Manitoba Hydro to give a detailed report on the crown corporation’s operations in 2008 and 2009. After his report, the Conservatives made motions that Friesen and former Hydro chairman and CEO Len Bateman be allowed to make presentations.

This was denied by the NDP majority, who argued it was “not the proper forum for public presentations and that it wouldn’t be fair to other people who might have attended had they known the public would be allowed to speak.” Discussion: Why is it specious to claim that it wouldn’t be fair to others, if the farmers and a former Hydro CEO were allowed to speak? Based on what they heard, the government could have followed up with a well-advertised public forum where additional public presentations could be made. What were they afraid of? Debate?

During the intermission, Finance Minister Rosann Wowchuk, the minister responsible for Manitoba Hydro, claimed that it was just Conservative “grandstanding” that was behind the protest. They were just “playing politics” and “could have negotiated the rules beforehand.” She claimed that she was a farmer, too, and understood “some of the challenges they’re facing.” Discussion: Isn’t the opposition’s job to challenge government policy? Why should this be offensive in a democracy?

Kusch closed his report with:

Malcolm Symonds, a University of Manitoba engineering professor, said the longer western route will cost Hydro $30 million a year in perpetuity in power losses along the transmission line.

Discussion: In view of his concluding words, can you get any idea of where Kusch may stand on this issue? Has the Winnipeg Free Press given much coverage to the opposition to the West Side option over the years?

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27 October 2010: “East side preservation inspiring” [Winnipeg Free Press, A15]

Rick Smith, executive director of Environmental Defence, and Marlo Raynolds, executive director of the Pembina Institute, wrote an article in support of preserving the east side of Lake Winnipeg for a UNESCO World Heritage park. They began by stating that “Manitobans have the rare opportunity to make a profoundly positive choice that will resonate across Canada and around the world by showing their support of the UNESCO World Heritage bid on the east side of Lake Winnipeg.”

This bid was a joint effort involving “Pimachiowin Aki Inc. and the Manitoba government … to achieve UNESCO World Heritage designation for the Pimachiowin Aki site – an area of 40,000 square kilometres of boreal forest” on the east side of Lake Winnipeg. Raynolds and Smith viewed this as an “exemplary and inspiring” collaboration between “First Nations and the provincial governments of Manitoba and Ontario.” Discussion: The implication is that First Nations on the east side were in full support of this venture. However, Pimachiowin Aki Inc. only included five communities, which were officially opposed to the east side route for BiPole III. Why would it be wise for the critical reader to delve deeper and find out why Norway House, Island Lake, Ste. Theresa Point, Wasagamach, and Berens River were seemingly absent in this collaboration between the government and east side First Nations?

Raynolds/Smith’s opening arguments for the park were as follows:

  1. Since one third of the intact boreal forest ecosystems on earth is within Canada, it is important that it be protected because “less than eight percent is presently protected from industrial development.” Discussion: How much of the remaining Canadian boreal forest is under threat from industrial development? Is there any likelihood any time soon of destructive industrial development in the boreal forest of Northern Canada? If not, why the alarm bells?

  2. Global warming is another reason why Manitobans should support the park. Raynolds/Smith claim:

    Along with the Amazon rainforest in the southern hemisphere, the boreal forest acts as the ‘lungs of the Earth,’ providing many of the ecological services that keep our planet, and in turn us, healthy. Its forests store carbon dioxide, preventing the release of heat-trapping gases into the atmosphere that cause global warming, while its wetlands filter and clean millions of gallons of water each and every day. It is home to thousands of species of wildlife, including the endangered woodland caribou, whose existence is threatened by industrial development. Discussion: The threat of global warming is getting a little stale. Indeed, “Global Warming” has been discarded by most climate alarmists in favour of “climate change” or “climate disruption.” The reason is obvious; world climate is not warming and hasn’t since at least 2000. See David Whitehouse: The Climate Coincidence: Why is the Temperature unchanging?

Apparently on the assumption that the building of a Hydro transmission line on the east side of Lake Winnipeg was incompatible with the creation of a UNESCO park there, Raynolds/Smith next provided reasons why Manitobans should support the west side option for BiPole III. It was better because:

  1. It avoided “cutting into the intact ecosystem of the boreal forest [on the east side] and exposing the land to ongoing threats from industrial activity.” Discussion: Does this mean that eastside aboriginal communities would be prevented in future from developing their natural resources, if it involved “industrial activity”? Considering that “industrial activity” supports the high standard of living of environmentalists living elsewhere, why should east-side communities be denied the same opportunity? Why is industrial activity presented as a “threat”?

  2. It avoided crossing the First Nations traditional lands [of the east side] recently recognized in provincial law and the significant potential liabilities that could arise from legal battles, which would stall future development indefinitely. Discussion: Considering the limited area affected by a power line, how would the loss of a few acres of boreal forest for a transmission line compare with the potential economic benefits to the people living in those traditional lands from a power line and the all weather road that would follow it? Or, do environmentalists living elsewhere not concern themselves, beyond lip service, with the economic welfare of the indigenous living in the boreal forest? Is the threat of legal action by the environmental movement a form of blackmail? In other words, do what we want, or we will keep you in the courts for years.

  3. The west route runs mostly through a developed region, lands that are being used for agriculture, residential communities and industry. Discussion: What is the argument here? Were they saying that it makes more sense to disrupt developed regions than disrupt undeveloped regions? This raises another question. Where would the disruption be greatest, in a heavily-populated area or a sparsely-populated or unpopulated area?

  4. Even though the west route was costlier, it was “only $410 million” more, which was “much less than critics claim.” Discussion: Raynolds/Smith seemed oblivious to the fact that construction costs had risen significantly since the original estimates. For example, by the fall of 2010, the cost of constructing the Human Rights Museum had escalated and the annual operating costs for the completed building had grown from an initial $12,000,000 to an estimated $20,000,000 and rising. Why were Raynolds/Smith downplaying those rising costs? Wishful thinking, ignorance, what?

There is another parallel between the proposed west side route and the Human Rights Museum. The first was adopted through the lobbying of environmental groups; the second by Gail Asper and her wealthy business contacts in Winnipeg. In both cases, decisions were made by a few people without consulting the taxpayers who were expected to pay for them. Is this appropriate in a province claiming to be a democracy?

  1. The UNESCO designation would open up economic opportunities to the east side. Discussion: Like what? Raynolds/Smith did not say.

  2. The east side had to be protected because of its “cultural and spiritual value.” Discussion: To what cultural and spiritual value was Raynolds/Smith referring? How is the reader supposed to assess whether BiPole III would reduce that value, when it is not clearly described? Considering the additional cost of constructing BiPole III on the west side of Lake Winnipeg, would it not be important to delineate that value more clearly?

  3. There would be “ecological services provided by the boreal ecosystem.” Based on a study by the Winnipeg-based International Institute for Sustainable Development, the value of these services, which included “fishing, water purification and carbon sequestration” was cited as “up to $130 million per year”. Discussion: Is that value not there already? How would an eastside route for BiPole III change the value of so-called “ecological services”?

  4. Carbon stored within the forests and peatlands of the area was estimated to be “worth at least $2.7 to $17.5 billion – an economic benefit exponentially greater than even the highest assumed cost.” Discussion: The value of future carbon sequestration is difficult to measure, because the science is uncertain. A study by Dr. Wolfgang Knorr at the University of Bristol in England suggested that carbon emissions from deforestation may have been overestimated by between 18 and 75 per cent. This agreed with an article in Nature Geoscience by a team led by Guido van der Werf from VU University Amsterdam. They re-visited deforestation data and concluded that emissions had been overestimated by at least a factor of two. See Bombshell from Bristol: Is the airborne fraction of anthropogenic C02 emissions increasing? – study says “No” . Discussion: So, maybe there is a lot less carbon being emitted than computer models have indicated (remember that those results are only as good as the data the programmer puts into them, and increasingly the evidence shows them to be in error). If that is the case, then what is the true value of a forest for carbon sequestration? Also, since it has not been proven that carbon is even a problem (in fact, increased carbon dioxide in the atmosphere actually stimulates forest growth), why was it mentioned as a reason for establishing a UNESCO park on the east side or anywhere else?

  5. Manitoba was one of only four provinces lacking a World Heritage Site. This would “direct a global spotlight on Manitoba’s ecological and cultural heritage.” Discussion: This may be true, but what has it got to do with BiPole III? Why can’t a park and a transmission line be accommodated in the vast largely unpopulated boreal forest of Eastern Manitoba? UNESCO officials seem to think the two are not incompatible.

Smith and Raynolds closed their article with the claim that

The Pimachiowin Aki Corporation and Manitoba government have demonstrated great vision in choosing to think beyond the next fiscal quarter and the next year to the future of our children and grandchildren. Manitobans have a unique opportunity to preserve an irreplaceable source of life and inspiration, to maintain its ecological integrity, and to invest in fresh air, clean water, species diversity and climate stability for the future. We offer our sincere congratulations as well as our firm support.

Discussion: How could the future of our children and grandchildren be damaged by uneconomical policies that add to the collective debt of our province? What do you think of the arguments put forward by Raynolds and Smith, once they are challenged by an alternative position?

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2 November 2010: “The case for a shorter, eastern Hydro route” [Winnipeg Free Press, A12]

Hugh McFadyen, leader of the Conservative Party was quick to respond to the Raynolds/Smith arguments. He started out by saying that the NDP government had “bowed to pressure from U.S. advocacy groups and overruled the advice of experts when it directed Manitoba Hydro to take the wasteful detour to the western side of the province.” He underscored this point by noting that Premier Selinger had received an award [for Environmental Leadership] in late October 2010 from “out-of-province” groups supporting his decision.

McFadyen then listed the reasons why the west side option was flawed.

  1. The west-side route was 479 kilometres longer and would cost “at least $1.75 billion” more than the east side route. This cost overrun includes “both capital costs and the value of line losses.” Discussion: McFadyen’s cost overrun was certainly different from that proposed by Raynolds and Smith. What does the reader have to do to find out which of the two opposing views is nearer the truth?

  2. This extra cost amounted to “about $7000 for every Manitoba family.” Discussion: Is this an argument that could get the attention of Manitoba taxpayers? What impact could increased debt have on services to Manitobans, especially to people living in the impoverished eastern part of the province?

  3. Dropping the east side option would result in “the loss of at least 40 MW of clean energy on a continuous basis, which is equivalent to the emissions of 40,000 cars.” Discussion: Environmentalists like Raynolds and Smith are likely to be in favour of clean energy. Why does this loss of “clean energy” contradict their position on BiPole III?

  4. A longer west-side transmission line would cross over 400 kilometres of private land, including farmland, five major highways, and three major railways,” thus increasing the risks to public safety. Discussion: Is it obvious what McFadyen’s argument is here? How is risk increased?

  5. The west route would cut through “more than 550 kilometres of boreal forest and aspen parkland. Discussion: Why is this a strong argument? We know that the west side option is longer by 479 kilometres? Presumably, the east side would result in less loss of boreal forest. What problem does that create for the Raynolds/Smith argument?

  6. The west route would cross or adjoin “seven protected areas, including provincial parks, forest reserves and wildlife management areas.” Discussion: If one proposed protected area on the east side of Lake Winnipeg is threatened by BiPole III, as Reynolds/Smith claim, and seven protected areas on the west are threatened by their proposal to move BiPole III there, what does that do to their argument based on environmental protection?

  7. It would cross “two critical staging areas for migratory birds.” Discussion: What argument could Raynolds/Smith raise to counter this?

  8. It would interfere with “two woodland caribou ranges” and “two of the most important mineral deposits in Manitoba. Discussion: Where are these ranges and mineral deposits? If interference is a real possibility, then, the problems of the west side option seem to be increasing. If one’s goal is to do the least amount of environmental harm, which route, east or west, seems more problematic now?

  9. “A majority of the communities on the east side have expressed support for an east-side route.” Discussion: Although McFadyen does not name them, the Island Lake communities and Berens River have in the past strongly supported the eastern route for BiPole III for economic reasons. This does not put them in opposition to the creation of a UNESCO park, because they do not see the two as incompatible.

  10. UNESCO experts do not think their designation would conflict with an east-side line. Discussion: If UNESCO experts have no problem designating a park as a world heritage site in spite of a transmission line passing through it, why do Raynolds and Smith?

  11. The east-side transmission line would have a lesser environmental impact than the proposed west-side option. Discussion: Is this evident from McFadyen’s previous arguments?

  12. The decision to build BiPole III on the west side flies in the face of opposition from former NDP premier Ed Schreyer, Island Lake political leader Elijah Harper, former Hydro CEO and chairman Len Bateman, and “the dozens of engineers and experts who say the western detour is a mistake.” Discussion: In view of the multi-party opposition to the west side option for BiPole III, why is the government being so intransigent? Environmentalism has been criticised as “faith” rather than “science” based. Are we dealing with a religion here?

McFadyen concluded this article with a firm commitment from the Conservative Party to make BiPole III an election issue.

We support our farmers. We want to protect people working in our mines, and their families. We want to reduce the amount of coal being burned in the U.S. by saving more of our clean energy for export. We believe in protecting boreal forest, aspen parkland, caribou herds and migratory birds.

By 2012 it may be too late to reverse the government’s directive. That is why we will spend the months ahead fighting to protect our children and grandchildren. Their future is more important than awards from out-of-province lobby groups.

Discussion: Those out-of-province environmental groups that were behind the environmental award given to Premier Selinger included: Pollution Probe (Toronto), Greenpeace (Toronto, Edmonton, Montreal, Vancouver); CPAWS [Canadian Parks and Wilderness (Ottawa, Manitoba), WWF Canada (Toronto), Nature Canada (Ottawa), Sierra Club of Canada (Ottawa), The Pembina Institute (Calgary; Drayton Valley; Edmonton; Ottawa; Toronto; Vancouver; Yellowknife), David Suzuki Foundation (Vancouver), Environmental Defence (Toronto), Equiterre (Montreal), and Ecojustice (Vancouver). Considering the economic impact of some of their causes on Manitoba, would it be useful to see what their political agenda is? Is it significant, or not, that only one of them appears to have a Manitoba Chapter?

Do you think BiPole III is a reasonable election issue?

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6 November 2010: “New hydro line’s cost may double” [Winnipeg Free Press, A4]

Bruce Owen and Larry Kusch teamed up to publicise the latest revelations on Bipole III. In a statement on November 5, Hydro CEO Bob Brennan stated that the cost of Bipole III could rise from “$2, 247 Billion to almost double that amount.” This cost had nothing to do with the length of the line, but with the cost of equipment to convert hydroelectric power “from alternating current (AC) to high-voltage direct current for transmission and then back [to] AC for consumer use.” Hydro was going to set up a group “to fully study the possible higher price tag for the two converter stations, one at either end of the new transmission line.” This should be done by June “before Hydro applies for an environmental licence to start construction.”

Owen and Kusch provided background on the controversy around the route of BiPole III, and noted the continued opposition of the Conservative Party, all of which had been covered before. What was new was their follow-up to Kusch’s October 26th article on the protest at the legislative committee meeting on October 25. Disgruntled farmers and engineers, frustrated at being prevented from voicing their concerns at that meeting, had now formed a lobby group called the Bipole III Coalition. So far, it included “former Manitoba Hydro executives, retired engineers, the Canadian Taxpayers Federation, and some 150 to 200 farmers.” One of its spokespersons was Karen Friesen, “who will see the line cut through her property.”

The new coalition was “demanding that “the transmission line be routed east of Lake Winnipeg, a significantly shorter distance but one that cuts through pristine boreal forest.” Colin Craig of the taxpayer’s federation said its first job was to update the estimate of “how much pricier a western transmission route will be.” As of November 2010, Hydro claimed it would cost $571 million, although it had not updated that estimate since 2007. The CTF estimated the price at $1 billion, once interest costs and power losses from a longer line are factored in.” Discussion: In terms of democratic citizen action, what is encouraging about the information contained in this article? Lobbying is a means of influencing government policy, and it is generally regarded with suspicion, when it attempts to promote the agendas of special interest groups at the expense of the majority. The BiPole III Coalition wants the eastern route because it believes that route will save money for all of Manitoba’s taxpayers and result in the least amount of environmental damage. The question we need to ask is this. Can it provide evidence that the East Side Option is better (1) for the environment and (2) for Manitobans as a whole, than the West Side Option being promoted by environmental lobbyists?

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25 November 2010: "Delegates reject line's western route: But Selinger won't budge on hydro plan" [Larry Kusch, Winnipeg Free Press, A7]

BiPole III got additional attention in November at the annual convention of the Association of Manitoba Municipalities (AMM) in Winnipeg, when the province’s 198 municipalities voted by “more than 90 percent of the meeting’s 1,156 registered delegates” to reject the four-year-old decision by the current NDP government to build the BiPole III transmission line down the west side of the province.

The government had opted for a western route because a route on the east side of Lake Winnipeg “would mean cutting a swath through a pristine boreal forest and potentially alienate U.S. customers.” The municipalities rejected the western route because of “the high cost and the hardship it will cause many southern Manitoba farmers.”
As reported by Kusch, AMM president Doug Dobrowolski said,

Farmers are receiving notices telling them that the power line will cut through the heart of their fields, creating problems for aerial crop spraying and field irrigation. Landowners also feel they’re not being offered enough compensation for putting up with huge hydro towers on their land … “I know there’s a value to the boreal forest, but you’re going through land that’s $1,000 to $4,000 an acre."

Kusch noted that Premier Selinger “made a brief appearance at the AMM meeting … to announce the province will work with municipalities to develop a new program for repairing and replacing bridges.” Afterwards, he spoke outside to reporters on BiPole III. He said that the government “would not change its mind on the western route, but there was ‘still quite a bit of flexibility’ on the exact location of a western line. ‘There’s a broad corridor that Hydro will work with landowners on,’ he said.”

Discussion: In spite of the fact that a western route is longer, more expensive, and extremely disruptive for the farms and rural communities through which it will go, coupled with the fact that the eastern route is shorter, less expensive, and promises an all-weather road and lower transportation costs for the beleaguered aboriginal communities on the east side, the government remains intransigent.

Why? Has the government been completely swayed by the environmental lobbyists? Has it joined forces with the likes of Robert Kennedy Jr. and his ilk from south of the border? Does it base its decision on the erroneous belief that a road would jeopardise a UNESCO designation for a park on the east side? Or is that just an excuse to appease lobbyists who like to think the east side is a pristine wilderness, when in fact it is already criss-crossed by winter roads?

Regardless of the rationale for the NDP government’s decision, does it make economic sense? Has this government lost touch with reality? Is it time for a change at the top?



29 October 2009: “Heritage status could hinder area’s economy” [Winnipeg Free Press, B5]

Before Premier Gary Doer left office, he put $10 million into a trust fund that will support efforts to create a UNESCO world heritage park on the east side of Lake Winnipeg. According to Martin Cash, this had some people worried, especially “prospectors, mining interests and First Nations groups concerned about economic development potential in the area.” The proposed park could “eliminate the possibility of developing mineral resources” in the 40,000 square kilometres that makes up the east side planning area. Ed Huebert, executive vice-president of the Mining Association of Manitoba, claimed that the province has not even looked at the region’s mining potential. Rick Syme, director of the Manitoba Geological Survey, confirmed that “up-to-date information” was lacking for the proposed site of the UNESCO world heritage park, although the regions north and south of it were reasonably well documented. Huebert thought it would cost up to $3-4 million to produce an updated survey.

Rod Bushie, a member of the Hollow Water First Nation and former grand chief of the Assembly of Manitoba chiefs, said that such information was “crucial to the future wellbeing of the region.” He was concerned that economic opportunities be available for young aboriginal people “five to ten years from now,” particularly in the mining industry, which was “one of the largest employers of aboriginal people in the country.”

A spokesman for the province said staff geologists would be made available to “First Nations land use planning going on among the communities on the east side.” According to Cash, it seemed “prudent to undertake the basic technical work required to make informed decisions.”

Discussion: If a UNESCO world heritage park is established on the east side, another level of bureaucracy will be created to administer it. How would this affect the future development of the region? Would the creation of a UNESCO park preclude the possibility of economic development within its borders? What impact would this have on the future development of the east side, if for instance a major mineral deposit were discovered in the park?

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14 October 2009: “Trust fund backs up UN heritage bid: Manitoba gives $10M to pursue special status for boreal forest” [Winnipeg Free Press, A4]

Bruce Owen and Larry Kusch wrote a joint article about Premier Gary Doer’s announcement on 13 October 2009 that the government was setting aside a new trust fund to help get “United Nation’s world heritage status for a 40,000-square kilometre area of forest on the east side of Lake Winnipeg.” Managed by the Winnipeg Foundation, it would be available to First Nation communities to support the UNESCO world heritage designation. Premier Doer was quoted as saying,

Your kids are going to be happy we did this. It won’t win us an election, but it’s good we did this.

This was the last act of the premier before leaving office. The Pimachiowin Aki World Heritage project is a joint effort by the Poplar River, Little Grand Rapids and Pauingassi First Nations in Manitoba and the Pikangikum First Nation in Ontario. Sophia Rabliauskas, a spokeswoman for the project, hoped that it would encourage other donations to the cause. Larry Innes, director of the Canadian Boreal Initiative claimed that this showed there was “financial and public support for the UNESCO application.” Other possible donors were the federal and Ontario governments, as well as private donors and foundations. The money would be managed by the Winnipeg Foundation, but the project’s board would decide how income from the fund was spent.

Doer acknowledged that getting a park was “a fight, economic versus environment,” but “at the end of the day it’s good for the environment and it’s good for the economy.” According to the article, the government was after the designation to protect the boreal forest and the rivers that run through it. That is why it was building “a new hydro transmission line down the west side of the province rather than the shorter route on the east side of Lake Winnipeg.”

Conservative leader Hugh McFadyen said the donation was a “positive step” in moving the park designation, but his party had “long argued that winning a designation would not be undermined by building a transmission line from northern hydroelectric dams down the east side of the lake.” He noted that Banff and other Canadian national parks have world heritage status, “despite such development as four-lane highways, town sites, ski resorts and power transmission lines.” He felt that UNESCO would be favourable to a designation “even with a (hydro) transmission corridor” as long as there was participation by local communities in the decision-making process.

Discussion: This article raises many questions. Consider Premier Doer’s words. Why do you think his decision would not win an election? Could it be that the cost of building the transmission line on the west side will be at least half a billion dollars more (and rising) than building a line on the east side? He saw the struggle to get the designation as a fight between economic and environmental forces, but said the two were not incompatible. However, is it not the aim of environmental groups to prevent economic development in the 40,000 square kilometre area? If they succeed, how will that affect the East Side’s economy in the future?

The project has the support of three of the sixteen First Nations on the east side. What about the other thirteen? Where is their voice in the decision to divert the hydro-transmission line from the east to the west side?

Hugh McFadyen maintained that there need be no conflict between economic development and the park designation, citing Banff as an example. If this is true, why is the government so opposed to building the power line down the East Side? Is the reason environmental, a political move to appease outside environmental lobbyists and win “Green” votes, or reluctance to negotiate a revenue-sharing deal with the First Nations on the East Side as was done further north? From your perspective, is the government really committed to negotiating in good faith with the East Side communities?

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Last updated: April 20, 2011

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