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Aboriginal News: Economic Development
Archived Articles


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.



BiPole III

9 November 2006: “Water World: Lakeshore life no picnic at the beach for roadless First Nations” [Winnipeg Free Press, A14/15]

Gerald Flood is well informed about the transportation problems faced by the 10,000 people living in the Island Lake region. He’s been up to that country. Travel is a major concern locally. There are no all-weather roads to the outside and no roads between the four First Nations located there. “To get around, people use snowmobiles and ice roads in the winter and boats in summer.” During freeze-up and break-up, ordinary boats become useless and people often turn to helicopters, but only during the day, because after dark, “helicopters are prohibited from taking off, even in medical emergencies.” They can also use the hovercraft owned by Dwayne and Brian Chornoby. It “can fly over water – liquid or solid, but especially in between.” It got plenty of business in the fall of 2006, when a blizzard shut down the airport. Since it is “equipped with sonar that sees in the dark,” it can work when the helicopters can’t fly.

The hovercraft “makes five, 10, 15 trips a day with fares averaging about $150 depending on how many climb aboard,” but that’s cheap when compared to the cost of a helicopter. For local people like Claude Taylor, a man Flood met on an earlier trip to Island Lake, such costs are burdensome. A diabetic who needs to have dialysis twice a week, Taylor moved back to Ste. Theresa Point, when a renal centre was established at Garden Hill, right across Island Lake from St. Theresa. When the lake is open, and he needs a boat to go across for his treatments, “it costs $50 one way, $100 for a round trip, $200 a week.”

Health care outside the community isn’t cheap either. Epstein Beardy, whom Flood met on his August trip, has a serious health issue that requires flights to Winnipeg “six or more times a year at $482 a pop – that’s $2,892 a year, not including cabs, meals and overnight accommodation.” Multiply that by the cost of transporting others among 10,000 people requiring outside medical attention, and the costs become “astronomical.”

Part of the problem is that the medical care available at Island Lake is generally “inadequate and getting worse.” This is in part due to an acute shortage of nurses, which “is brought on in large measure by the community’s roadless isolation.” While at Ste. Theresa, Flood learned that the health centre there was supposed to have six nurses and a doctor “four days a week.” Instead, they had “two [nurses] and a doctor for 1.5 days.” The backlog of patients had been as high as a hundred with about 300 open medical files.

Medical costs are not the only expenses that local residents incur because of the transportation issue. Air freight drives “the cost of living through the roof for Island Lakers, most of whom live on welfare” because jobs are few and without a road out of the region, “there is little hope of creating a local employment economy.” The winter road brings the bulk of the dry goods, construction materials, etc., into the community, but even that can be iffy. With warmer than usual temperatures in 2006, the winter road “all but failed,” and “few supplies got through.”

Flood had been to Island Lake twice previously by winter road in a journalist’s effort to “drive home the need for the construction of all weather roads to East Side communities, and to underline the Doer government’s folly in refusing to act on the best option for accomplishing it – allow Manitoba Hydro to build a corridor for a high-voltage transmission line down the East Side and require it be routed to create a path for a road to follow.”

Travelling to the region had been a real eye-opener for him. It helped him to understand “the immense costs and risks that are incurred to supply Island Lake and communities further north, costs and risks that contribute to the poverty and ill health of East Siders.” In spite of this, “All-weather roads have been talked about forever, but never get built, with the result that isolation continues to contribute to dysfunction and despair.” Without the roads, there can be no “meaningful economic development for lack of affordable means of transporting raw or finished resources – fish, timber, minerals – to the outside world.” Flood wrote that the government had been talking about building a road from Norway House to Island Lake, but studies had concluded that this wasn’t a reasonable option. It would give “access to the outside, but, by doubling the distance of a road straight south down a Hydro corridor on the East Side,” it would make “development uneconomic.” And, he added, “It also will do no good for all the communities further north that could be linked to the Hydro corridor.”

From Flood’s perspective, a road would end Island Lake’s isolation and provide “a cheap transportation alternative to air.” Moreover, “it would have other positive health related impacts in that it would make a healthy diet affordable and thus reduced the need for health care and medicines.”

Discussion: Flood has covered a lot of ground. Eric Robinson said the people on the East Side were opposed to a Hydro line. On the basis of Flood’s article, what arguments might Elijah Harper and others at Island Lake make in support of a Hydro line and the road that would naturally follow? Why is the alternative road to Norway House proposed by the government uneconomical?

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29 September 2007: “First nations upset over power line route” [Winnipeg Free Press, A7]

This brief news article highlighted the dissatisfaction of some First Nations over the government decision to build the new hydro transmission line on the west side of Lake Winnipeg. Marcel Balfour, vice-chair of the Manitoba Keewatinook Ininew Okimowin (MKO) that represents 30 First Nations governments, issued a public statement saying that First Nations had not been consulted, and that an opportunity had been missed to build roads and provide positive economic opportunities to the communities on the East Side. Eight First Nations have been asking for consultation since 2004 in the hope that they could work out a deal that would “include aboriginal construction and ownership” of the line passing through their lands.

Discussion: What are the main issues exposed in this article?

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2 October 2007: “Doer’s west-side sellout” [Winnipeg Free Press, A11]

Conservative leader Hugh McFadyen issued a statement condemning the NDP government decision to run the new high-voltage power line down the west side of Lake Winnipeg. He objected for a number of reasons. Building on the west side would cost a half billion dollars more than a similar line on the east side of the lake. The NDP admitted that no studies had been done. The longer western route would lose “at least 100 megawatts (MW) of precious clean energy” through “line friction,” which is equivalent to “the capacity of several coal plants now in operation.” An opportunity for economic development on the east side had been lost, a loss that former NDP MLA Elijah Harper described as “devastating”. The route on the west side would “run in the vicinity of eight First Nations, two provincial forests and Riding Mountain National Park” and nobody yet on the west side has been consulted on this important matter. A transmission line and a world heritage site on the east side need not be in opposition, as very little boreal forest would be affected by the power line. In McFadyen’s views, Premier Doer had given in to international pressure and “misinformed NDP activists,” and he invited him to reconsider.

Discussion: This was a good summary of the main points in opposition to the government decision. It raises a question. To what extent should ordinary Manitobans, aboriginal and non-aboriginal, be involved in decisions affecting their regions?

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3 October 2007: “Tory slams landmark deal with reserves” [Winnipeg Free Press, A7]

Mary Agnes Welch briefly reported on the debate in Question Period at the legislature, most of which centred on the Hydro transmission line and the Hollow Water blockade on the east side of Lake Winnipeg. Strong views were generated on both sides of the issue. Tory leader Hugh McFadyen’s expressed his opposition to the Wabanong Nakaygum Okimawin (WNO), the accord signed in April 2007 between the government and 16 chiefs that was “supposed to help solve some of the political muddles that now grip the east side.” McFadyen objected because he felt the WNO had “effectively put veto power in the hands of 16 east side chiefs” who could “kill projects such as the Manitoba Hydro power line.” Premier Gary Doer defended the WNO, saying that it fulfilled the constitutional requirement to consult First Nations “over any projects that could affect their treaty lands and rights.” He denied that it gave the chiefs a veto.

In fact, if it is true that “some chiefs say the province abandoned the deal by making unilateral decisions on the hydro line and on cottage lots near Hollow Water,” what does this say about the impact of the chiefs on the decision-making process through the WNO? Compare what McFadyen said in Question Period, as reported by Welch, and what he wrote on 2 October 2008. What apparent contradictions are there? How do you account for them? How does one weigh what a person says about a controversial topic during a heated debate as compared to what he writes in an official statement? Why is it valuable to have access to both?

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5 October 2007: “Right choice on east side” [Winnipeg Free Press, A13]

Eric Robinson defended his government’s decision to build the power line (BiPole III) on the west side of Lake Winnipeg. These were his arguments. The NDP had 80 separate community meetings on the east side and “learned that the majority of east side people were not supportive of BiPole III.” According to Robinson, their priorities were road access and protection of the environment, “while pursuing sustainable and lasting economic development.” BiPole III would not “provide significant job and business opportunities for underemployed east side residents.” Jobs would be temporary. A road up the east side was a separate issue from the Hydro power line, and the government had “begun to build an east-side road to connect isolated communities without BiPole III.” The WNO Accord gave First Nations of the east side a “voice in shaping economic development activities on their traditional lands,” but “First Nations ownership of the line, which would then be leased back to Hydro” was an “unrealistic scenario.” He concluded his argument with, “I believe we are at a point in our history where we can no longer afford to make decisions based solely on the bottom line.” Saving a half billion dollars on an east side route, in Robinson’s view, was not as important as “preserving Manitoba’s slice of Mother Earth for future generations.”

Discussion: This article raised a number of interesting issues. For example, how did Robinson know that the majority of the people on the east side were opposed to BiPole III? Was this based on impressions gleaned from community meetings or was a vote of community residents taken? We weren't told. How did his claim about east side viewpoints coincide with statements by Elijah Harper, George Kemp, and Craig Cook? Was the blockade at Wanipigow related to BiPole III, a separate issue, or a combination of both? On another point, Robinson was technically correct that Hydro wasn’t responsible for road construction, but: Would a road be built faster up the east side, if a Hydro line were built there? The east side has had government promises for several decades that a road would be built, but it has never materialised. Also, are economic opportunities only tied to the actual construction of the Hydro line, or would the road that necessarily accompanies Hydro line construction bring other economic spin-offs that the east side so desperately needs? And, are even the few permanent jobs that the transmission line could produce important in communities with as much as 90% unemployment? 

Robinson claimed that economic benefits of the line had been exaggerated “by those who stand to gain the most.” Then, in his next sentence, he said, “CREECO –a company formed by the James Bay Cree of Quebec – is working to convince east side leaders of the benefits of BiPole III.” The implication was that CREECO was self-serving in its promotion of the line. Look up the word “innuendo.” Was Robinson guilty of innuendo here? What was CREECO’s motivation for getting involved? How could the reader find out?

Robinson made a number of statements that reflected a particular kind of bias. For instance,

You don’t have to have grown up amidst Manitoba’s breathtaking expanse of boreal forest between the eastern shores of Lake Winnipeg and the Ontario border to recognize what a truly special place it is. So special, in fact, that the area is currently being considered for recognition alongside such legendary places as Machu Picchu in Peru as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

But for the First Nations residents who have hunted, fished, trapped, laughed, prayed, lived and died there for thousands of years, the east side takes on a level of significance not easily understood by others.

Our bottom line must also include preserving Manitoba’s slice of Mother Earth for future generations.

Based on the above, how do you think Robinson viewed the idea of a world heritage designation for the east side? Considering his words, do you think he saw Hydro development in direct opposition to that view? Why? Can’t we have both?

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7 October 2007: “Look at us, World: Manitoba pitches boreal forest as UNESCO site” [Winnipeg Free Press, B1]

This article by Mary Agnes Welch and Mia Rabson was all about the movement to designate 42,000-square-kilmetres of boreal forest on the east side of Lake Winnipeg as a UNESCO World Heritage site. The Pimachiowin-Aki site, which “encompasses the traditional lands of five First Nations, three provincial parks and six protected areas in Manitoba and Northwestern Ontario,” would be the first such designation in Manitoba and the fifteenth in Canada. Noting that the aboriginal people are among the poorest in all of Canada, the article pointed to the economic possibilities that eco-tourism and cultural tourism could bring to the region. Ron Thiessen, Manitoba executive director of the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society, said that “The uniqueness of the aboriginal culture coupled with the beauty of the landscape would be a draw for tourists from all over the world.” He also felt that “European tourists in particular would be a prime market for aboriginal powwows and sweat lodges, canoe adventures down rivers abundant in rapids and waterfalls, hikes through forests thick with stands of jack pine and black spruce where woodland caribou roam freely in one of their last remaining habitats in North America.”

According to Conservation Minister Stan Struthers it was “not certain” what kind of an infrastructure will be needed to make this happen, but a road was definitely supported by all sixteen First Nations on the east side. Other development, such as the hydro line, could be disallowed in order to preserve “the integrity of the environment,” which some believed was the main criteria considered by the UNESCO panel. Struthers was “hopeful that the Pimachiowin-Aki proposal” would be ready to pitch to UNESCO in just four years.” However that meant there had to be “land use plans in place for all the First Nations and parks involved in the proposal, designating exactly what would be done with each parcel of land, including where roads would go or what other development would be allowed.” Since “relations with east side bands have been a quagmire,” it may take a while, but Struthers was optimistic that the government can be ready by 2011.

Associated with this article were “fact sheets” about UNESCO and the process of designating World Heritage sites, but nowhere was it explained what the advantages of such a designation would be for the east side. If it were only the prestige of a designation, how did that translate into an economic future for the region? From the information in this article, does it appear that the government had a concrete plan that could be translated into action? Considering the length of the process – four years of planning a proposal and possibly decades before a designation is made, if at all – what are the possibilities of anything happening right now to ease the hopelessness of the people on the east side that Chief George Kemp of Berens River talked about? By opting for a World Heritage designation, had the government further limited the already limited economic possibilities of the east side? Outside bureaucrats have long dominated the east side communities. Would a World Heritage designation simply add another level of bureaucracy that east side leaders would have to appease?

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7 October 2007: East side story – from soap opera to farce” [Winnipeg Free Press, B2]

Gerald Flood wrote that the east side story had “legs”; that is, it would likely be “important, deep and long-running,” and “hold the attention of writers and readers alike” for a very long time. This story began twenty years ago, with the fairy tale that Conawapa would result in huge sales of electricity to Ontario, but the tragedy was that the deal eventually collapsed. With the advent of the Doer government, the situation became a soap opera, “where the same players speak roughly the same lines and conduct themselves in roughly the same way day in and day out with sufficient mendacity, conflict and folly to hold our attention.” Now it had turned to farce with the government decision to force Manitoba Hydro “to abandon its 20-year-old plan to build a transmission line down the east side” at a “dead-loss waste of at least $650 million.”

Flood described Eric Robinson as “one of the more prominent actors in the soap opera, now destined for a starring role in the farce.” He then critiqued Robinson’s arguments (October 7 article) in defence of the government’s decision. In response to Robinson’s claim that the extra expense of the west side line was justified by environmental considerations, Flood said, “In other words, there is so much equalization money pouring in from Alberta and Ontario that we can flush $650 million away to appease environmentalists that do not live on the east side but in fancy houses in California and New England.”

Flood didn’t buy the argument about preserving the boreal forest either. If Conawapa eventually materialised, “we plan to hack a corridor through the ‘magnificent’ boreal forest above the sacred east side zone and then continue hacking and cutting through the ‘magnificent’ boreal all the way to Sudbury.” To underscore that argument, Flood added that on the west side, “we will have to hack a corridor through the ‘magnificent’ boreal there and we’ll have to do it for 500 additional kilometres.” To Flood, “the hypocrisy” was “breathtaking,” but there was more.

Flood mocked Robinson’s claim that the government had begun the “first leg” of a road up the east side, saying that it amounted to “a bridge so that an existing logging road” could be “connected between Hollow Water and Bloodvein.” At that rate, it would be a long time before communities 500 kilometres to the north at Island Lake and God’s Lake had a road.

Flood also took issue with Robinson’s claim that the jobs associated with the proposed line would be ‘modest’, arguing that the government “never allowed Hydro to talk to the East side, to explain that a profit-sharing deal like the one for Wuskawtim could be on the table.” Those jobs would now go to the west side, “where more than 30 First Nations will be lining up to wring every last ‘modest’ cent out of this farce.”

Flood found Robinson’s claim “farcical” that the government could not develop First Nations’ ‘traditional’ rights to use Crown Land without permission,” but on the west side they could “require not just use but expropriation of land from thousands of farmers there who actually have title and deed.”

Evaluate Flood’s rebuttal to Robinson’s arguments. Who made the best case and why? (Flood was not new to this issue, as he had written before in support of a road up the east side. See his lengthy article 9 November 2006.)

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9 October 2007: “Power line on west side is a huge mistake” [Winnipeg Free Press, A15]

Andy Staudzs “worked on the planning and design of transmission lines for almost 40 years, 10 years for a consultant and the federal government on the first two DC transmission lines built in the 1960s, and then 30 years for Manitoba Hydro on various other transmission lines, including maintenance and repair of the first two lines.  He is retired now, and that enables him to frankly cite the reasons why the west side route is a bad idea.

First of all, the extra 400 million the west side route would cost “an exorbitant price to pay for dubious benefits? That’s $400 for every person (man, woman, and child) in the province.

There would be “at least fifty percent more” electrical line loss because of the greater length of line on the west side, and that loss would be continuous year after year. That was in total contradiction to the Power Smart Program that Hydro promoted.

There would be increased surveillance and maintenance costs for the 300-400 kilometres of extra line.

The extra length would make the west side line “more susceptible to extreme localized weather events.”

There was as much pristine boreal forest on the west side as on the east side because “most of our province is a boreal forest.”

A cleared right of way had “very little effect on the environment, visually and physically.”

A million Manitobans were being asked to pay half a billion dollars “for the sake of one boreal forest (of many), which very few will ever visit and where very few people live, less than two percent of the population.”

The west side route was more heavily populated and had large agricultural areas, so many more people’s lives will be disrupted, if the line went down the west side.

This was the perspective of a man who had travelled all over Northern and Eastern Manitoba, seen the boreal forest from the air, and worked on several Hydro lines in the province. With that background, why does his viewpoint matter? He concluded his letter with this sentence, “I really hope that common sense prevails, instead of one person’s desire for 15 minutes of fame in a UN brochure.” Who do you think he blamed for the decision and cite reasons why he is either right, or wrong, based on your reading so far?

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10 October 2007: “First Nation rebuffs minister again” [Winnipeg Free Press, A4]

Mary Agnes Welch gave an update on the blockade set up by Hollow Water First Nation on September 13. Repeated calls by the government to Chief Ian Bushie and his band councillors went unanswered, including an invitation to meet “during a traditional sweat-lodge ceremony that was to include a smoking of the pipe.” However, at a public gathering on Friday (October 5), Bushie said he “did not want to negotiate through the media and that the barricade would stay up until a deal with the province over land planning and resource rights is done.” Bushie added that the province and the cottage owners were “living on stolen property” and “called Rupertsland MLA and cabinet minister Eric Robinson the government’s ‘token Indian.” Conservation Minister Stan Struthers was not pleased.

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10 October 2007: “It’s not easy being green: but Doer gets by as a pragmatic environmentalist” [Winnipeg Free Press, A4]

According to Dan Lett, Premier Gary Doer was a “pragmatic environmentalist.” He was behind the decision that “forced Manitoba Hydro to abandon plans to build an electricity transmission line through the pristine wilderness east of Lake Winnipeg,” but that didn’t mean he was a “raving tree hugger.” According to Lett, “Doer claims he must preserve the east side territory so it can be considered for designation as a world heritage site by the United Nations Education, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO).” Apparently, he was “convinced development of the east-side lands would become a lightening rod for the international environmental movement.” If that occurred, it “could make Manitoba Hydro electricity about as popular as blood diamonds.”

So, the “east-side debate is shaping up to be less about what the premier wants, and more about what he wants to avoid.” Lett wrote that Doer learned from the debate over construction of the Wuskwatim generating station that one had to tread carefully when the environmental movement was involved. Members of the Pimicikamak Cree Nation cultivated leading environmental lobby groups like the Sierra Club, when it was arguing with Manitoba over the terms of the 1977 Northern Flood Agreement. “The Sierra Club approached Xcel Energy, the largest energy company in Minnesota and Manitoba Hydro’s largest export customer, to convince them to think twice about Manitoba electricity.” According to Lett, the premier thought the west-side option might be more expensive, and there could be opposition there from First Nations and environmentalists, but he thought it was more likely to succeed than the east-side, “which could be trapped in political and environmental wrangling for years.” The premier was also concerned “that UNESCO may abandon the east side forest as a heritage site, not because of the transmission line, but because he wanted “to steer clear of the political firestorm that would erupt during regulatory hearings.”

This was the first article to look at possible reasons why Premier Doer opted for the west side, but it is not particularly convincing. For instance, if the premier was spooked by the efforts of the Sierra Club to stall the Wuskwatim Generating plant, why was it built at all? Lett inferred that the Sierra Club and other lobby groups of the same ilk had an impact, but he did not explain. Did the lobbying affect Minnesota’s purchases? Did it delay Wuskwatim? Lett didn’t say, and the reader is left wondering how it affected the premier’s thinking. Lett also suggested that the premier thought the west-side would represent fewer headaches than the east side, but considering that there are many more people to be troublesome on the west side, this seems unlikely. What then is the reason? Could the premier have been so enamoured of a world heritage site that he was willing to move heaven and earth to get it? It’s a scary thought, but better than a premier who was so intimidated by unelected and often foreign lobby groups that he was willing to spend an extra half billion dollars to avoid dealing with them. Also, what about that UNESCO designation? Why do we need it? And once we have it, what will it do for Manitobans, and especially Manitobans living on the east side?

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13 October 2007: “East side advantage: If developed properly, it is superior to west side option” [Winnipeg Free Press, A19]

Elijah Harper and Bryan Schwartz teamed up to write another article on the vexing issue of east side economic development. Elijah Harper, consultant, lifetime honorary chief of Red Sucker Lake on the east side, and a former NDP MLA, is best known for his opposition to the Meech Lake Accord. Bryan Schwartz is a professor of constitutional law at the law faculty, University of Manitoba, and the author of several books on Canadian constitutional law.

Harper and Schwartz began with a clarification of the issues by focusing on what wasn’t in dispute, and by so doing underscored their own position in the current debate over the location of the new hydro line. They claimed there were five indisputable facts about the advantages of the east side route over the west side, namely, 

1. The east side route was “shorter and easier to build.”

2. It could be built in “far less time.”

3. It saved “at least $650 million” in construction costs.

4. It avoided “a massive waste of a renewable energy.”

5. It provided “a margin of security by more widely separating the lines.”

Harper and Schwartz then answered Eric Robinson’s claim that the people of the east side were opposed to the Hydro line. They did so first by referring to the official reports. In them, it was clearly stated that the people who attended the meetings listened, but made no decisions as they had to share the information with the rest of the community. Secondly, they pointed out that the leaders of each of the east side communities had shown a willingness through “signed agreements and formal resolutions” to explore the Hydro proposal. Thirdly, the MKO Tribal Council which represented the east side First Nations complained that it was not consulted before the government’s decision to go down the west side. Harper and Schwartz then ask two direct questions.

1. Why did the government think that local leaders were out of touch on this issue with their own people?

2. Why had the government disenfranchised First Nations leaders?

Harper and Schwartz then pointed out that until the government advanced “a comprehensive proposal,” the people were in no position to respond one way or the other. However, they would be more willing to say “yes” if the proposal involved “working with residents to minimize environmental impacts, compensating for any damage and sharing the revenues of the line.” There was a precedent for this, namely, “the Wuskwatim project, where a community that had been traumatized by early Hydro projects voted in favour of a new one in which they were made partners at all stages.” Harper and Schwartz reminded the reader that the government ordered Hydro not to talk about the east side option and the local people had no resources to “research, formulate and advance their own perspective.” That being the case, they asked, “How can meaningful public consultations take place, so that residents can make a fully informed choice?

Harper and Schwartz also gave several arguments challenging Robinson’s claim that a UNESCO designation precluded the possibility of a Hydro line down the east side.

1. It was unlikely that UNESCO would provide any funds for the park in a G-8 country; therefore, its importance had to be put in perspective.

2. First Nations don’t need the designation to protect the park. They can do so by “asserting their treaty rights and developing land use plans backed by provincial laws.”

3. It was uncertain that a designation would promote eco-tourism. “An investment in tourism and hospitality facilities, marketing guides and advertising” might be a better way to go.

4. There was no real conflict anyway between a UNESCO designation and a Hydro power line. No area in the world was entirely pristine, and the UNESCO guidelines recognised that fact.

5. The character of the boreal forest on the east side could be “maintained with a thoughtfully designed and routed hydro transmission line, just as it could be with appropriate roads or tourism facilities.”

6. There was no conflict between environmental protection and economic growth in International environmental law.

Next, Harper and Schwartz took on the claim that a negotiated settlement with the sixteen chiefs on the east side was all but impossible. They asserted that “The Supreme Court of Canada had made it clear” in such negotiations that “all sides have a duty to be reasonable” in order to “reconcile the rights and interests of all concerned.” They said that the Supreme Court would be unsympathetic with any First Nation that attempted to veto a proposal made after “reasonable consultation and accommodation.”

Harper and Schwartz noted that the government had made promises through the East Side Planning Initiative and recorded them in its own Promises to Keep Report in 2002. Then they asked some questions of the government.

1. “What happened to its promise that First Nations would be resourced, so that they could be fully informed, involved and consulted on all components of the east side option, including its possible impact on the possible UNESCO designation?”

2. “What happened to the commitment to sustainable development, which involves economic progress as well as environmental protection?”

3. “Where is the contemplated environmental assessment of the east side option?” [Further to this question, Harper and Schwartz noted that during the election campaign on May 12, 2007, Premier Doer said in Poplar River that the Poplar-Nanowin Rivers Park Reserve “would be a major draw for international travellers, particularly once an all-weather road was built.” As Harper and Schwartz pointed out, Doer did this “without any apparent study of sustainability and environmental soundness.” Then they asked, “How can he casually justify a road and not the hydro transmission line? How does he know which one is actually more of a disruption to the environment?” In their view, government decisions were inconsistent and uninformed by “community consultation and scientific evidence.]

4. “Where is the proposal for revenue-sharing by Hydro should the east side option be considered viable?”

In the final section of their lengthy article, Harper and Schwartz made a recommendation that is worth quoting in full.

There is still time for the government of Manitoba and Hydro to step back. We would suggest the creation of a commission to consult with east side First Nations and other residents in the area, and Manitobans generally. It would formulate a general proposal on all aspects of the east side option, including options for minimizing environmental impact, revenue sharing for residents and ensuring the viability of the UNESCO option. It would have a well-defined budget, mandate and reporting time. The credibility of the commission would be bolstered by consulting with opposition parties and east side residents and arriving at consensus on appointments to the task force. There could be an impartial chairman, independent experts in areas such as engineering and environmental protection and designates from each of the three major political parties in Manitoba.

In the view of Elijah Harper and Bryan Schwartz, “The east side option … if developed properly … could be superior to the west side option in all dimensions, including environmental and economic.” Moreover, it could be done. “If all concerned are willing to sit down and reason together in good faith, we can achieve an outcome that will be welcomed by all reasonable people, from the impoverished and long-suffering residents of the east side to taxpayers in Winnipeg to the Sierra Clubs of New England to the halls of UNESCO.”

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17 October 2007: “More chiefs oppose west-side decision” [Winnipeg Free Press, A15]

Mary Agnes Welch reported that the chiefs of Island Lake bands, namely Wasagamack, Red Sucker Lake, Garden Hill, and St. Theresa Point wrote to Premier Doer “demanding that he reconsider his decision to run a power line down the west side, a decision the chiefs say condemns their east side communities to relentless poverty.” They described his support for a UNESCO World Heritage Site over a transmission line on the east side as “misguided.” In their words, the hydro project “would have provided long-term meaningful employment and development” and hinted that they might oppose the world heritage park, if the hydro development did not occur. Berens River, Pauingassi, and Bloodvein First Nations had earlier this summer asked Doer “to enter into an ownership or revenue-sharing deal that would have seen their communities reap some financial benefit from a power line through their traditional lands.”

Welch noted that Premier Doer said on Tuesday [October 16] that no proposal other than outright ownership had been proposed by “the bands,” and that wouldn’t happen. Also, Berens River Chief George Kemp’s recent proposal for revenue sharing had been rejected as well, because it would have cost Hydro “about 100 million a year.” Doer emphasized that Poplar River First Nation was still “adamantly opposed to a transmission line through its lands,” and that consensus among the 16 chiefs was next to impossible to achieve.

Some questions arise. This article neglected to mention the claim by aboriginal leaders on the east side that they had not been properly involved in the government’s decision. How would knowing that help the reader to evaluate the premier’s response? It appears that Doer’s remarks were aimed at the proposal by the three chiefs (Welch is unclear here) and not to the letter of the four Island Lake chiefs. What follow up question might Welch have asked of him? Also, if Poplar River reversed its position on the transmission line, would Premier Doer change his mind? Is it because no consensus has been achieved that he decided on the west side route?

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2 December 2007: “Manitoba should reconsider west side power line” [Winnipeg Free Press, B4]

At the beginning of December a group of engineers wrote a letter to Premier Doer asking the provincial government to reconsider its decision to build BiPole III down the west side of the province. They began by pointing out that Manitoba Hydro exported power to “over 30 electric utilities in four wholesale markets in Canada and the Midwestern United States,” while “providing the lowest domestic power rates in Canada to Manitobans.” Manitoba Hydro with over 5,000 employees was “the jewel of Manitoba’s economy,” “an international leader on many fronts,” including “some of the greatest research achievements regarding power generation and distribution.”

The mandate of Manitoba Hydro, according to the engineers, was “the efficient and secure production of electrical power for the benefit of all Manitobans.” The government’s decision to build the new hydro-electric transmission line on the west side violated that mandate by adding hundreds of millions of dollars to capital costs that would negatively affect Manitoba Hydro and Manitoban “for years to come.”

In addition, because of the increased length of the transmission line, there would be increased line losses “for the entire functional life of the project.” The added line length would also increase environmental damage, which was “the antithesis of ‘green’ thinking.” Much “clean” power would be wasted, when in fact it could be used to “displace existing coal-burning electrical generation.”

As engineers, the writers were “concerned about the stability and security of the power grid.” A good design would reduce power failures and outages, but not this one because it was so far removed from the two existing lines. As a result, it did not “allow for ‘paralleling’ based on current technologies, a recognised measure to compensate, in an emergency, for temporary loss of an HVDC line.”

The engineers were not impressed with the argument that BiPole III would interfere with the proposed UNESCO World Heritage park for the east side. Since no studies had been done, there was “no clear signal that the eastern route would be mutually exclusive to a designated UNESCO site.” No comparison had been done to determine which of the east and west side options would have the greatest environmental impact, which they felt was of greater concern.

The engineers also challenged the government’s claim that aboriginal concerns prevented the east side option. They pointed out that “the leaders of many of the east side aboriginal communities have held press conferences and spoken openly about the importance of the line on the east-side for development of their communities.”

Finally, they asked the government to reconsider the east side option, or to reveal additional information that would justify “Manitoba Hydro to abandon efficiency, its mandate and its ability to serve the interests of Manitobans.”

Discussion: This public letter to Premier Gary Doer from members[1] of the Engineering Department, University of Manitoba illustrates how widespread public concern has become over the provincial governments decision to build BiPole III on the west side of Lake Winnipeg. What were the main arguments that the engineers put forward? What arguments would Premier Doer have to make to get them to change their minds?

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11 January 2008: “Keep east side pristine” [Winnipeg Free Press, A11]

David W. Schindler, a Professor of Ecology at the University of Alberta, supported the Manitoba government’s decision to place Bipole III on the west side of the province. If the region east of Lake Winnipeg remained “relatively intact,” he asserted, it would “almost certainly be declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site, because it is one of the few areas of the southern boreal forest where the fauna and flora remain relatively unravaged by logging, mineral or petroleum exploration, encroachment of agriculture, or other activities that have compromised most of the southern boreal ecozone.”

Schindler was aware of the arguments against the west side option, including cost, length of time to build, increased susceptibility to power outages, damage to the already-degraded boreal forest through which it will be built. He was also aware of the accusation that the government had caved in to “international environmental groups” and ignored the protests of aboriginal communities on the east side that favoured the east side option.

His first response to these arguments was personal and subjective. He wrote, “I spent more than 20 years of my life in Manitoba, enjoying many hunting, fishing and canoeing trips on the eastern side of the lake. I also visited many of the eastern shore communities on the lake in 1968 and 1969, as a young scientist doing fisheries research for the now defunct Fisheries Research Board of Canada. I can attest to the area’s extreme beauty, and ecological and cultural uniqueness.”

The second response involved a comparison between the east side and another boreal forest in Canada that suffered degradation after development occurred there. He argued that the power line “becomes a magnet for other sorts of development and disturbances of many kinds.” He underscored his point by comparing the region to the “lower foothills and adjacent boreal plains of western Alberta,” which he claimed was “equally beautiful 40 years ago” before oil and gas discoveries opened the region up for settlement. He cited numerous examples to illustrate the degradation - decline in the number of large mammals, like the grizzly and woodland caribou, increased number of roads, trails, and exploration lines; loss of boreal forest to logging and agriculture, pollution of lakes and decline of wall eye and pike populations. According to Schindler, the Alberta example illustrated what happens “when only profits are considered.” He concluded by applauding the Manitoba government’s “wise” decision, adding that the “children and grandchildren” of this generation would be thankful that a “priceless area remains intact for future generations to enjoy and cherish.”

Discussion: How do the arguments cited by Schindler compare with those by Aitcheson, Schwartz, and Harper below.

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12 January 2008: “Defence of west side weak” [Winnipeg Free Press, A10]

Peter Aitchison did not buy Prof. Schindler’s argument, whose “powers of analysis and research,” in Aitchison’s view, appeared “to have declined drastically.” Aitchison argued that the comparison with Alberta did not hold water because the east side power line “would not have a road along it in remote areas” and the government had in any case “promised new roads to access First Nations communities on the east side” a promise that would “lead to exactly the loss of wildlife and degraded environment suggested by Schindler.” Aitchison added the east side power line would have little effect on the environment and consequently little impact on the World Heritage site designation.

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15 January 2008: “Nostalgia doesn’t help impoverished east side” [Winnipeg Free Press, A11]

Bryan Schwartz and Elijah Harper also responded to Schindler. They pointed out that “The laws of Manitoba require that environment issues always be considered alongside economic and social development,” a fact that Schindler completely ignored. They asserted that “There is a lawful, rational and principled approach to environment issues,” but that it “involves focusing on principles and facts, not ideology or partisan politics.” They added that it also “requires consultation with the people involved.” and that “it makes findings based on science to identify real environmental risks,” then “adjusts plans to overcome them.”

They accused Schindler of scare-mongering “based on much different developments elsewhere and in the past” and of nostalgia based on his personal “recollections of visits to the area.” Indirectly, they also condemned his insensitivity to the ”staggering levels of poverty and ill-health among the human beings who live there.”

They didn’t think that the “children and grandchildren” of this generation would be thankful that “the expressed wishes of the vast majority of elected First Nations leaders” had been ignored in its desire to “explore development and potentially share in its benefits.” Nor would they be happy with the extra expense of the west side option that would divert funds from health, education and the environment.

In their view, the government’s decision was “inferior on all grounds, including environmental protection, and pre-empts any serious and credible consultations and studies.” On the basis of “the rule of law and reason,” they challenged the government “to unplug its ears and open its mind?

Discussion: As you compare the arguments in this article with those in Schindler’s, draw some conclusions. Which arguments were convincing? Which were not?

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22 November 2008: “Activists hail park logging ban” Doer government’s decision came out of the blue” [Winnipeg Free Press, A3]

Logging is an economic activity on the East Side with potential for growth; therefore, what happens to the logging industry elsewhere in the province needs to be watched closely. In a November article, Bruce Owen called attention to a government announcement that it was banning logging operations in 79 of Manitoba’s 80 parks, effective April 1, 2009. Environmentalists, who had been trying to stop logging in parks for years, were surprised, but elated by the news. Ron Thiessen, Manitoba director of the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society was quoted, saying, “Our parks are spectacular areas. They are for recreation, education and for future generations to enjoy and of course, to protect our wilderness and wildlife.” Eric Reder, another activist, was equally delighted at the news, and said that the next step was the banning of mining as well.

The government had been negotiating with Tolko Industries Ltd. and Tembec Inc. for some time, but “no one outside of those involved knew talks had progressed so far.” These companies will shut down operations in the Whiteshell, Nopiming, Clearwater, and Grass River Parks by the end of March, but they will continue to “cut timber on Crown land in other areas of the province.”

Only Duck Mountain Provincial Park was unaffected by the ban. Logging would continue, because of “long-standing agreements with loggers, including Louisiana Pacific, to operate in the park.” Owen added that “Struthers also said because so many people depend on the area’s forest industry for work, a ban is not economical.”

Owen shed little light on the rationale of the government in taking this action, but did include the following quote from Premier Doer, “We actually believe that provincial parks are parks. A park is a park is a park. You should be able to have a picnic in a park without a tree falling down.”

According to Conservation Minister Stan Struthers, the ban was “only the first step the province is taking to protect its boreal forest from development.” As reported by Owen, Struthers may be following the lead of Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty, who had said that he will “protect 50 percent of his provinces forests, representing the single largest conservation commitment in Canadian history.”

Vice-president Dennis Rounsville said Tembec was “a little taken aback” when the government approached it regarding the ban. “Access to the forest is the life-blood for a mill such as our Pine Falls newsprint mill,” he said, “You can’t run a mill without trees … but when the government wants to go in a direction, it’s hard to stop them.” His company, which employs 200 people, will have to move out of the Whiteshell and Nopiming provincial parks and go further south to get trees, a change that will increase the trucking costs to get the spruce logs to the mill. However, according to Owen, “Tembec should not have a drop in production or job losses.”

Dave Knight of Tolko, which employs more than 500 people, said that the move out of Grass River and Clearwater Provincial Parks will add “two extra hours to truck a load of timber to its mill in The Pas, extra costs the company is willing to accept.”

According to the Premier, the province would provide a “one-time amount of $3.2 million so that neither company will see a drop in production or the prospect of job losses.”

Owen’s article was accompanied by three pictures, one of a group of environmentalists with glasses raised in a victory toast, another of clear cutting presumably in one of the affected parks, and a map of Manitoba showing the locations of the parks.

Discussion: Owen’s article was essentially a report on what the government had done, the reaction to it from environmental activists, and the insignificant impact it would have on two Manitoba logging companies. Except for a little inconvenience, it will be business as usual. There was no analysis whatsoever on a government decision that anywhere else would have economic consequences. The glib rationale for the ban provided by the Premier wasn’t even questioned. Needless to say, this article raises a number of questions.

What kind of long standing agreement excluded Louisiana Pacific from the logging ban?

Why was the economic welfare of the people involved in Duck Mountain logging of greater significance to the government than that of the people at Pine Falls, Wabowden, or The Pas?

How can a government ban have no appreciable impact on either company? Owen actually quoted the Premier as saying, “They [the logging companies] are facing difficult times … Our philosophy was in the long run and short run to make sure this was revenue-neutral.” Revenue neutral for whom, we might ask?

What impact will this decision have on the East side of Manitoba, where 16 bands have been promised a seat at the table to negotiate the future of the region. With limited economic options open to them, they could decide they want logging in the boreal forest to stimulate economic growth? What would the government’s reaction to this proposal be?

One of the pictures accompanying the article showed a group of smiling environmental activists proposing a victory toast in celebration of the ban. Although they were not directly involved, they had worked to bring a ban about for years. Do they have a legitimate cause?

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The Ryan Proposal

Part 1: 9 February 2008: “Lake bottom line: Hydro transmission cable under Lake Winnipeg explained” [Winnipeg Free Press, A11]

This was the first of a series of three articles by John Ryan, a retired professor of geography at the University of Manitoba. What he set out to prove was that there was a third alternative for BiPole III that would be cheaper than the West Side Option and do less harm to the environment than either the East Side or West Side options. His proposal was an underwater route through Lake Winnipeg, an alternative that was not mentioned in the recently released Hydro report BiPole III Transmission Routing Study. From this evidence, Ryan concluded that it had not been seriously considered.

Ryan began by addressing arguments against the underwater option that had been made by Hydro CEO Bob Brennan in a December 9 news report.


1. The Lake Winnipeg Route was too costly

Brennan had argued that it would be “unbelievably expensive” to put a Hydro line under Lake Winnipeg, claiming that it would cost “four to six times as much as running it on steel pylons above ground.” Hydro’s estimate was that it would cost $3 to 4.8 million per kilometre to install the underwater route.

Ryan countered by pointing out that the 580 kilometre cable that was laid under the North Sea recently between Norway and the Netherlands and two converter stations together cost $1.5 million, which was half to a third less than the figure cited by Brennan. Ryan had obtained this information from the company that manufactured and installed the cable. Why was it important for Ryan to address objections upfront, before making his own argument?

He claimed that the $1.5 million figure could be reduced to $750,000 a kilometre “if the converter costs” were removed from the North Sea project. This would be less than Hydro’s estimate of $806,000 per kilometre for the West Side option.

Ryan argued that underwater cable has been around a long time, and that it could probably be installed for even less money because of how shallow Lake Winnipeg is. A “knowledgeable source” had informed him that the cost of the installed cable would be “significantly less, perhaps $500,000 per kilometre” less that the North Sea Project. How is your arithmetic? That’s a further reduction of $250,000 per kilometre? Is this a convincing argument? How would it help to know the name and position of the anonymous ‘knowledgeable source’?

Having met Brennan’s cost objection to his satisfaction, Ryan next moved on to argue how the job might be done. He wrote that “it would appear” that the best route through Lake Winnipeg would be from Warren’s Landing to Traverse Bay, a distance of 350 kilometres. That “it would appear” is a red flag. Appear to whom? On what basis? When reading critically, it is always wise to watch for vague statements that haven’t been substantiated by evidence.

Ryan next dealt with the cable costs. The North Sea cable was a 700 megawatt cable, but Hydro needs a 2000 megawatt cable for BiPole III. Ryan’s research indicated that two 1000 megawatt cables, each costing about $250,000 each, would do the job. He noted that these were “well based estimates,” but “the actual costs could be determined only by a budgetary tender.” How does the reader know the estimates are ‘well based”?

Ryan based his cost for the overland route from Gillam to Warren’s Landing (450 k) and from Traverse Bay to Riel (87 k) on Hydro estimates for the East Side option. That cost would be $758,192 per kilometre or $341 million.

Ryan added that the cost of two converters “could be” $1.1 billion, making the coast of the entire project $1.9 billion or 14% ($300,000 million) less than Hydro’s estimate for the West Side route. The wary reader might at this point ask how the cost of the underwater route as compared to the East Side route? Ryan did not make that comparison? Does that omission provide a clue to his position on the East vs. West option? Food for thought!

Ryan made passing reference to “other costs,” including the “transportation of the cable” that could be a total of $100 million that would reduce the savings to $200,000.

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2. Underwater cables are not produced in long sections, hence many splices are required, which is time consuming, costly, and makes the line less reliable.

Ryan refuted Brennan’s first claim about the length of the sections by pointing out that cable in the North Sea project ranged from 45 to 154 kilometre lengths with the average being 75 kilometres. He had obtained this information from the man in charge of the project. The project head also said that splicing the cable lengths together is standard procedure and does not make the line less reliable. How does this information make Brennan look? Remember, he’s the CEO of Hydro!

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3. The cable is oil-filled, so there would be environmental concerns.

Ryan said that this argument was “so far removed from reality” that it verged on “nonsense.” The cable used in the North Sea project had no free oil inside and “had been installed in some of the most sensitive marine environments.” It had been designed, so that there would be no environmental risk. What lesson about the claims of politicians and bureaucrats should this teach the reader?

Ryan concluded his argument by summarising the main advantages of the Lake Winnipeg Option.

  1. It would bypass First Nations’ territories.
  2. It would go through only 363 kilometres of boreal forest, as compared to 885 kilometres for the East Side route and 812 for the West Side route.
  3. it would provide a more secure system because it would be separate from the two existing lines.
  4. Shorter by 40% than the West Side route, it would reduce line loss for a “reported” $250 million over the lifetime of the line.
  5. The underwater section of the line would require a smaller labour force than a comparable line over land and the entire route cheaper to build because of its shorter length.
  6. It would take less time to complete.
  7. It would not disrupt “the overall integrity of the relatively undisturbed boreal forest” on the East Side.
  8. It would “eliminate years of protracted negotiations with First Nations” on the East Side.

He did add that there were some additional costs. The cable would have to be brought to Thunder Bay and from there to Gimli by rail, after which it would be laid in the lake by a barge that would have to be built. He promised that he would address these issues in his forthcoming articles.

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Part 2: 10 February 2008: “From ship to shore: Two-kilometre train needed to move transmission cable” [Winnipeg Free Press, B5]

At the beginning of his second article on the feasibility of a transmission line under Lake Winnipeg, Ryan stated that this alternative would “involve some techniques that have never been used in the world before.” His plan is as follows:


  1. Cable manufactured and moved to Thunder Bay
    He assumed, for the sake of argument, that the underwater cable would be purchased from ABB Power Technologies Co. of Sweden and sent by ship to Thunder Bay, from which it would be transported by rail to Lake Winnipeg.

  2. Moving the cable from the ship to the train
    A four kilometre length or railway track would be required along the dock. The ship would come in along the dock to the middle of the four-kilometre track. The train would be ready on the track to move into position for unloading. The cable would then be eased off the ship using a turntable and laid on the floor of the first flatcar. The train would then move ahead, and the cable laid on the second, third, and fourth flatcars, until the end of the train was reached. The cable would then be looped and the train backed up until the second fold was completed and so on until 70 kilometres of cable had been loaded.

  3. Organising the cable on the flat cars
    Ryan suggested a cable length of 70 kilometres (“five sections and only four joints” for the entire length of the line from Warren’s Landing in the north to Travers Bay in the south, a distance of 350 kilometres). Each length of cable would weigh “45 kilograms per metre, 45 tonnes per kilometre, or 3,150 tonnes” for the full length of the cable. That would require seventy “heavy duty flatcars, each capable of carrying 45 tonnes of cable” and “a train two kilometres in length” for 70 kilometres of cable.

Ryan envisioned the cable being “folded back and forth along the two kilometre length of flatcars,” making “35 strands or rows.” Since the flatcars are ten feet wide and the cable 13 centimetres or about 5 inches wide, that would mean “20 rows of cable, with the remaining 15 rows forming a second layer.” He figured it would be possible to haul two cables at once using this method.

The technical problem with this plan is that the cable cannot be bent flat. It has to be folded in a loop with a diameter of six metres. Ryan has a solution. They could be folded vertically “on lower deck cars” at either end of the train and a “support structure . . . installed on a smaller extra car at the front and rear of the train to help hold up the cable so as not to damage it.” He even suggested a “crane on each of the extra end cars to help form the loops.”

According to Ryan, The CPR Logistics Division told him that “a train suitable for this purpose could be assembled, and that there would be no problem with low underpasses” for the 6-metre high cable loops at either end of the train. It’s Ryan’s ‘never been done before” invention, which Thomas Worzyk, technical project manager at ABB found “intriguing and thinks would work.

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Part 3: 11 February 2008: “Barge at Gimli would lay cable in lake” [Winnipeg Free Press, A11]

In the third article in his series, John Ryan discussed the fourth issue in his proposal

4. Moving the cable off the train and onto the barge.
Ryan proposed that as soon as the train reached Gimli, it would be unloaded in a “reverse process to the one used to load it – unspooling the cable by driving the train back and forward over a four kilometre stretch of track.” In order to accomplish this, the present lakeside track that is 3.25 meters in length would have to be lengthened by about 800 metres. A barge “capable of supporting 3,150 tonnes of cable, with a steel turntable on which to wind the cable” would also need to be built. Ryan added that “it would need to be 25 metres by 100 metres with sides five metres high and a draft of 2.5 metres” and could be made out of 10 separate units, each measuring 10 metres by 25 metres by five metres.” He was assured by shipbuilders at Riverton that they could build it.
Ryan envisioned a distance between the train and the barge of 800 metres. To move the cable that distance, he proposed “a conveyor of rollers.” The cable would be “diverted from the train in a gentle curve and extended along the conveyer system” with the train moving two kilometres forward and then two back.” According to Ryan, the “force of the moving train would push the cable from the rows onto and along the conveyer to the turntable, which in rotating would help to pull the cable off the cars.”

5. Laying the cable under Lake Winnipeg from the barge
Ryan thinks this part of the process would be simpler than the cable-laying in the North Sea. “The average depth of Lake Winnipeg is only 12 metres” and “its bottom is composed largely of thick layers of clay and silt.” The process would involve a “remote-controlled water jetting trencher” that would dig the trench followed immediately by the coordinated laying of the cable from the turntable on the barge.

6. Ryan’s concluding remarks on his plan
Ryan figured that he had addressed most of the problems with his proposal. He added that the extra costs would be (1) transporting the cable from Sweden (2) cost of transporting the cable from Thunder Bay by rail (3) cost of a properly equipped barge (4) cost of 800 metres of a special conveyor system (5) rental of a remote-controlled trencher. He figured that the cost for all these extras would be $100 million, which would be $200 million less than the proposed western route for BiPole III. It would also be 40 percent shorter, so there could be reduction in line loss for an additional savings of $250 million. Ryan figured this would mean a savings in total of $450 million “by scrapping the overland west route and adopting the underwater route.”

Critical Evaluation

It sounds great, doesn’t it? John Ryan has come up with a solution that should make everyone happy, right? But is it feasible? Could it be done? This is something completely new? Has he thought of all the hidden costs? The Unforeseen obstacles?

His third option is about half a billion less than proposed west route. But what about the east side option? How does the Ryan Proposal compare with the cost of going down the east side? Why did he not discuss that option?

Perhaps two letters to the editor on February 13 will provide further insights on these questions and raise others as well. See below.

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Reaction to the Ryan Proposal

13 February 2008: Letter of the Day: “Why No analysis?” [Winnipeg Free Press, 13 Feb 04, A10]

Don Sullivan, Executive Director, Boreal Forest Network, felt that John Ryan had “come up with a viable alternative to an issue of great importance to Manitoba.” Then he wondered why Manitoba Hydro “never undertook such an analysis.” He noted that “clearly Manitoba Hydro has an obligation, as a Crown corporation, to provide decision-makers with the best available information” and concluded that “It is painfully obvious after reading Ryan’s series that they failed to do so in this instance.” He went on to say that Hydro should “be held accountable by the government” for not having done an “internal analysis” on a plan he described as a “Win-win solution that merits serious consideration.” He recommended that the government conduct “its own independent review on the cost and benefits of going underwater” and suggested that “Ryan could chair that review.”

For the critical reader, there are questions to ask. What is the Boreal Forest Network? What is its position on the controversy over the location of BiPole III? Check the Internet to see if you can find out. What is the focus of this article? Is it about the feasibility of Ryan’s proposal or is it something else? What assumptions does Sullivan make? How does Sullivan’s letter contribute to your understanding of the Ryan proposal?

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13 February 2008: Letter “Caution urged on scheme” [Winnipeg Free Press, 13 Feb 08, A10]

Keith Bricknell of Toronto wasn’t as positive about Ryan’s third alternative for Lake Winnipeg as Sullivan was. He was sceptical about the railroad’s claim that there would be “no problems with low underpasses.” He cited an example. In 1960, a “1910-vintage C-Phase transformer (tall, but shorter than six metres) failed at the Pointe du Bois generating station.” Winnipeg Hydro decided to send the transformer by rail to St. Catharines, Ontario for refurbishment. The problem was “telephone wires and local-service electrical wires” that crossed the tracks. Firstly, it was costly in man power and time to raise those lines high enough to clear the load. Secondly, it would disrupt rail schedules while the line-raising was underway. As a result, Winnipeg Hydro sent the transformer via low-bed semi-trailer. So Bricknell wondered how feasible Ryan’s plan for rail transport really was, if Manitoba Hydro could not use the railroad to move a transformer that wasn’t as high as the coiled ends of the underwater cable would be. He also wondered where Hydro would get insurance to cover any unforeseen problems concerning a transport project that had never been undertaken before.

Bricknell might have added the disruption in power that would necessarily result, if lines could not be raised, but had to be cut instead. This is certainly an issue in urban areas, where bridges and overhead wires make it almost impossible to move buildings from one part of a city to another without some disruption to local service. The costs, obvious and hidden, discourage such moves because they simply aren’t cost effective. How useful was Bricknell’s letter as compared to Sullivan’s in helping you make an informed decision about the feasibility of the Ryan plan? How do you feel about Ryan’s plan now with this added information? What new questions would you pose to Ryan, if you had the chance?

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6 May 2009: “Give the east side another look” [Winnipeg Free Press, A14]

Jim Collison, a strategic energy/economy/environment consultant, was quick to respond to the plan to build an all-weather road on the east side. Describing the decision as “an assault on logic,” he illustrated the point as follows,

Somehow, a power line can’t be built down the east side of Lake Winnipeg because it will impact the “pristine” boreal forest, upset environmentalists, endanger exports and compromise a potential world heritage site – yet a highway is fine! The Manitoba government says the road benefits the communities in the region, but the power line does not.

What Collison was saying here was this. It didn’t make sense to abandon the East Side Option on the grounds that it hurt the environment and then build a road which could damage the environment more.

Collison went on to summarise the reasons why the communities on the east side need better transportation – cheaper goods, better access to outside services, more choice and windows of opportunity for the people and their beleaguered local governments, which have to deal with poverty, deplorable living conditions, and high dependency on external resources. He also noted that the population is expanding and more are entering the job market with little hope of finding work locally. The road would not solve all these problems, but it would be “a small step to open up options and opportunities.”

In other words, a road was still necessary for the communities. Collison then illustrated the difference in the impact of BiPole III and an all-weather road on the east side. The road was going to have a much greater impact.

Both BiPole III and an all-weather road required a right of way, but the hydro towers are only placed “as needed for a hydro line,” whereas an all-weather road involves a “continuous roadbed” that “disrupts the soil, rock, swamp and streams to a far greater extent.” Roads are bad because “road use and maintenance inhibits natural re-growth, wildlife and their predators have new “routes” to follow and animal impacts with vehicles as well as easy access for hunters, legal or otherwise, increase annual wildlife kills.” The ditches associated with these roads also “lead to soil erosion and stream turbidity.” For these reasons, Collison concluded that “the impact of a road on the boreal forest is many times greater than a power line.”

By now the reader is a little confused. In the way he stated his argument, Collison first provided reasons why a road was necessary, but followed that up with all the reasons why it was a worse option than BiPole III. The situation was not clarified in his next paragraph either.

Discussion about future options mentioned by the government includes tourism and mining. What happened to the pristine wilderness?

With resolve and attention, mining and tourism investments, carefully sited and designed, can be managed for minimal impact, but so can a power line. If carbon emissions are considered to be a problem, along with carbon sequestering, how does a road help?

Collison was trying to show how a road was a worse option that BiPole III, evidently to show the lack of logic in the government’s decision, but he provided few clues as to where he was going with this argument. He appeared to be saying that mining and tourism, as well as a power line, if “carefully sited and designed,” could occur without roads, but since he had written earlier on the importance of roads, and appeared to be in favour of them, it was confusing to hear yet another reason for not building them.

He next looked at the issue of “carbon sequestering,” arguing that fires “on average burn a combined area equal to half the east side every year, so the forests may not be the huge carbon sink some environmentalists would have us believe.” Also, he said “It’s worth noting that entire boreal area from Lake Winnipeg east to the Ontario border represents only 0.045 per cent of all Canada’s boreal forest, and that the same distance through boreal is required regardless of the route taken.”

It was difficult to follow his argument here because he did not connect it effectively to what he had previously written. Was he speaking in favour of a road, BiPole III, or both? It would appear that the argument could be used to justify either one of them? After all, if the region isn’t a “huge carbon sink,” why worry about damaging it with an all-weather road?

Even though there were four national parks in the boreal forest already across the country, Collison seemed to think there was justification for a park on the east side “in part for boreal but also for its representation of tradition lifestyle.” He didn’t think that a power line would affect a world heritage designation if there were “careful site selection” for its route.

Collison recommended that BiPole III be returned to the East Side and the $450,000,000 that this would save be diverted to the communities, perhaps as “an annual or monthly community development ‘annuity,’” to provide them “with regular revenue dedicated to development.” He added that this move would also save “in transmission losses,” and would also address the argument coming chiefly from the United States that “aboriginal people are not fairly treated in energy development.” He went on to argue that the West Side route was not benign because it would go “through the prime and heavily used migratory bird flyway west of Lakes Manitoba and Winnipegosis,” adding that “some 200 species of waterfowl, subject to international convention, use this flyway and the major staging areas from the Delta Marsh north almost to The Pas.” According to Collison, “Transmission lines are estimated to kill 130 to 170 billion [sic] birds annually in the U. S. alone, and bipole lines are particularly threatening to large birds.”

Collison concluded his editorial with the following summary argument.

A new look at Bipole III is warranted. Communities could count on an annual flow of developmental revenue, export sales of electricity would meet high standards for stewardship and a potential world heritage site retains strong potential, with no net cost involved. The stewardship factor is even more important today as the Obama administration and the U.S. Congress (and the Bobby Kennedy gang, with whom the Manitoba government seems to be in thrall) are taking broader consideration of impacts, including greenhouse gases and offsets, along with compensation for and involvement of aboriginal populations affected.”

Discussion: It is hard to know where to begin with an article like this. Collison rightly pointed out why a road would benefit the East Side, but then argued against building one. Seemingly oblivious to the fact that all past discussion of BiPole III on the East Side has included a service road, he continued by comparing the advantages of BiPole III as opposed to an all-weather road, as if one excluded the other.

He claimed that roads were more disruptive than power lines, but his evidence was unconvincing. For example, he claimed that roadbeds “inhibit natural re-growth,” as if power lines didn’t, then added a picture with his editorial showing horses cavorting along a treeless power line corridor surrounded on both sides by trees. Hardly an endorsement for his argument! Based on his claims about road kill along an all-weather road, we should be closing down highways like the one through Riding Mountain National Park. Try suggesting that to the people of Onanole, Mr. Collison, and see the reaction. Yet this argument is perfectly acceptable when a number of Northern and remote aboriginal communities are involved.

He went on to make the somewhat novel suggestion that mining and tourism could be developed without roads, but didn’t explain how that was to be done. Wouldn’t a rational explanation have strengthened his argument and enlightened his readers? Instead, he went in another direction, the gist of which was that the boreal forest on the East Side is only 4.5 percent of Canada’s boreal forest, and we already have four national parks in that forest. So why bother with a park, you might ask? Well, we could still justify another park ‘in part for boreal but also for its representation of traditional lifestyle.” Oh, really? Some of us have always suspected that those city folk from Boston and New York would be happier if they could see those wigwams and birch bark canoes back in their natural settings! Now we know. Of course, with “careful site selection” BiPole III would not affect the “pristine” nature of this proposed park.

So what is Collison’s solution? Simple. Move Bipole III back to the east side and take the half billion that will be saved and give it to the communities on the east side, so that they can develop. Let’s translate this. In other words, Collison wants the government to build the transmission line on the east side. According to his economic vision, that will save half a billion dollars. On paper, he’s right, but we don’t have that money right now. It has to be generated from the taxpayer, so what he means in essence is that the tax payer foots the bill for the transmission line, then he has to fork out another half billion and give it to the people living on the east side to develop their economy without roads. Did it not occur to him that the people of the East Side might want to have the dignity of developing their own economies rather than being the recipients of yet another government handout? Maybe instead they would prefer to negotiate for a share of the revenue from their traditional lands.

Collison’s arguments about the dangers of the West Side are also questionable. Certainly birds are threatened by transmission lines, but they don’t kill “130 to 170 billion birds annually in the U.S.” as Collison suggested. Millions, to be sure, but not billions. Go here for more accurate information. House cats eat 100 million birds a year in the U.S, too, and by the same argument, they probably should be banned as well.

Maybe everyone should step back and take a look at alternatives. Could roadless trucking be an alternative to Northern transportation woes? Take a look at Roadless Trucking for the World for a real eye-opener. This system of transportation could revolutionise life in Northern and remote regions of Manitoba and other parts of Northern Canada. See also ISOPOLAR, with which Dr. Barry Prentice of the Asper School of Business is associated.There is a conference entitled “Airships to the Arctic V” in Calgary, October 7-9, that should be interesting and informative. Perhaps a few Manitobans concerned with Northern transportation could attend.

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24 May 2009: “Build electric monorail on east side: Train would follow path of Hydro corridor, be financed with savings on shorter route” [Winnipeg Free Press, A11]

Gerald Lecuyer came out in support of the east side option in 2009 and provided a number of arguments for his stand. As a former Manitoba Minister of the Environment (1983-1988), who chaired the hearings of the Clean Environment Commission on the proposed Wuskwatim Dam, he was knowledgeable about the environmental issues involved.

He noted at the outset of his article that Manitoba’s hydro-electrical potential is “tremendous,” and a “relatively clean energy” source as long as care was taken to mitigate any “negative impacts.” However, there would always be a negative impact of some kind, however minimal, and it would happen whether the new line [BiPole III] went down the east side or down the west side of Lake Winnipeg. Nevertheless, a number of factors made the east side option the most attractive. He reasoned as follows.

If we tie to its creation the economic development, the cultural preservation, the education and health services for First Nations communities and the preservation of the boreal forest, then we must build this corridor on the east side of Lake Winnipeg.

To ensure that Manitoba, its people and its environment benefited from the project, it had to achieve five outcomes.

  1. Additional Energy for all Manitobans with a minimum of environmental damage.
  2. Economic benefits for all Manitobans, especially the aboriginal people east and northeast of Lake Winnipeg.
  3. Protection of the environment, including the woodland caribou and the boreal forest.
  4. Increased access by First Nations in the east and northeast to “education, healthy services, goods and materials” from Southern Manitoba.
  5. UNESCO designation for an east side park still possible.

Lecuyer proposed that “an electric train on a monorail” could be built along the corridor for the new transmission line, even “suspended to the pylons transporting the hydro lines in certain areas such as river crossings, swamps, small lakes, etc.” It could be built in partnership with the First Nations (who would eventually own it) with the money saved by abandoning the more expensive west side option. The train could then “transport goods to the First Nations communities and enable them to access services in the south and carry tourists to the boreal forest museum/art gallery.” Lecuyer also mentioned that people and goods could be transported by “a large blimp,” but that this option could be impractical at this time and “could produce more carbon gas emissions.”

Costly winter roads and all-weather roads would no longer be necessary once the monorail was functioning. This would save money because such roads are expensive to build and maintain. Since there would be no roads to mar the pristine boreal forest, eco-tourists would be encouraged to come. This would also encourage the development of a park preserving the boreal forest and protecting wildlife such as the caribou. Preservation of the forest also limited “damage to our climate” that occurs when forests are destroyed.

Lecuyer felt governments had “an absolute and moral obligation” to encourage the development of the First Nations people on the east side. A UNESCO park, however worthy, could not be allowed to jeopardise that goal by isolating First Nations on their reserves. Their welfare had to be considered in any park proposal.

Lecuyer maintained that a monorail would have a smaller impact than a road. It could lead to other benefits as well. “For instance, at the south end, a bus and truck terminal for passengers and goods could be built across from the Powerview hydro dam by the Sagkeeng First Nation as partners in this project.”

To conclude, Lecuyer wrote, “Air and water are two essentials of daily human and animal life and for that reason they are rights and belong to everyone. Corporate bodies and governments have a managerial role to play in preserving the supply, access and quality of these elements.”

Discussion: What evidence suggests that Lecuyer was looking at the big picture? He did not mention the cost difference between the east and west side options, but they were estimated at more than half a billion dollars in 2008 and climbing. How much would a monorail cost to build? Lecuyer did not say. What more do you need to know to accurately evaluate his proposal? Where would you look for the answers?

For more information on “a large blimp,” see Roadless Trucking for the World. This system of transportation could revolutionise life in Northern and remote regions of Manitoba and other parts of Northern Canada. See also ISOPOLAR, with which Dr. Barry Prentice of the Asper School of Business is associated.

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25 May 2009: “What’s wrong with this plan?” [Winnipeg Free Press, A11]

Chief George Kemp, Berens River First Nation, wrote a most interesting letter to the editor of the Press in May 2009. It’s worth quoting in full.

“Now that the vision for Manitoba’s future is taking shape through the CentrePort plan, I offer this three-for-one deal for the vision. How about linking the Bipole transmission line project to the vision and build the line down the east side of Lake Winnipeg. With the savings of well over $400 million for the east side line, build a superhighway down the east side direct from our inland seaport at Churchill to CentrePort in Winnipeg. Build the highway beside the transmission line; if this can’t be done, can someone tell me what I am missing?”

Discussion: What are the arguments in favour of combining projects, as Chief Kemp suggested? What are the arguments against? Chief Kemp envisioned the highway extending north as far as Churchill. However, what if it linked instead with a point along the Hudson Bay Railway (HBR)? Goods would then travel by rail and highway between Winnipeg and Churchill, with transfer of goods occurring at the transhipment centre that developed at the intersection between the two transportation systems. Where would the best spot for that transhipment centre be on the HBR? What factors would need to be considered before deciding on the appropriate site?

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22 June 2009: “Extending hydro grid will be costly: report” [Winnipeg Free Press, A7]

This article by Larry Kusch focused on issues connected with electrical service to four remote communities in Northern Manitoba. At present, Lac Brochet, Brochet, Tadoule Lake, and Shamattawa still rely on diesel generated electricity. However, provincial climate-change legislation could change that. Passed about a year ago, this legislation required Manitoba Hydro to come up with a plan to reduce or eliminate altogether its reliance on diesel fuel in these communities. In its report, Hydro looked at alternatives, like “wind power and the construction of a tiny hydro generating station to serve Brochet and Lac Brochet,” but opted for a plan to reduce greenhouse gases by “maximizing the use of biodiesel (in place of diesel fuel) and investigating ways to make the diesel engines more efficient.” It also recommended “continuing discussions with the four communities and Ottawa on ways to supply them with cleaner power.”

Jim Rondeau, provincial Minister of Energy, indicated that he planned “to discuss the various options – including extending the grid – with the federal government.” Apparently, “it was unlikely that any expensive alternative to diesel power would be implemented without Ottawa picking up a large part of the cost.”

Kusch then explained the cost and impact of each of the alternatives. Wind power would cost between $21 to $40 million to install in the four communities and reduce diesel consumption by 20 percent.

A small hydro generating station for Brochet and Lac Brochet would cost $34 to $63 million for a 60-amp service. However, it wouldn’t produce enough power to heat the houses electrically and a diesel generator would still be necessary as backup.

A costlier local hydro generating station ($36 to $68) would produce a 200-amp service in both communities, but the diesel generators would still be necessary in both places as backup.

Extending the hydroelectric power grid to the four communities would cost about $225 million. Ten years ago, nine other communities were connected to the power grid for $154 million, a cost shared by Ottawa, the province, and Manitoba Hydro.

Discussion: Although the claim that  hydrocarbons like diesel fuel are the cause of global warming, there is little scientific evidence to support this widely held belief, and temperatures throughout the world in 2009 suggest that the earth is more likely to be cooling for reasons that climatologists don’t yet understand completely. Nevertheless, why is the fear of global warming helpful in this instance to four remote Northern Manitoba communities? Consider the options. What are the pros and cons of wind power? In the long run, which of the two hydro-electrical generating plants would be most cost-effective for the service it provides? What are the pros and cons of extending the power grid? What do you think of the option to use bio-fuels, considering high cost of producing bio-fuel as compared to fossil fuel and the fact that the production of bio-fuels takes land out of food production? Which of the various options would you choose and why?

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19 September 2009: “West side hydro line corrosive: Doer’s decision to block east side transmission line exposes metal infrastructure to failure” [Winnipeg Free Press, A18]

John Roschuk, a senior engineer technologist and power quality consultant with 52 years experience in the electrical field, including 17 years with Manitoba Hydro, thinks that the Manitoba government’s decision to build Bipole III on the west side of Lake Manitoba is “ill-founded.” Here are the reasons he cited in a recent Free Press editorial.

  1. The west side of Lake Manitoba, from the Swan River Valley to the U.S. border is “the most severe thunderstorm and tornado region of Manitoba” at “10 to 15 tornado days per year.” “The Interlake [between Lake Winnipeg and Lake Manitoba], where the existing Bipole I and II are routed, and the east side of Lake Winnipeg, Manitoba Hydro’s preferred route, have only 1 to 3 tornadoes per year, although a little higher on their southern limit.

  2. Lightening causes power failures. Based on scientific data collected by Manitoba Hydro and Environment Canada, lightening strikes are “many times greater on the west side of Lake Manitoba than in the Interlake or on the east side.”

  3. High voltage direct current (HVDC) power lines bring with them two disadvantages:
    1. Stray ground current. This is lost current from the line that will be attracted to nearby metal (such as “pipelines, concrete reinforcing steel, bridges, railroad tracks, structural building steel, irrigation systems, transmission towers, electrical distribution systems, existing and future wind farms”). This is a problem, because the ground current is corrosive on metal (“one ampere of direct current flowing through iron will erode 20 pounds of iron in a year”). If Bipole III is built west of Lake Manitoba, it will go near heavily populated communities, including Winnipeg, where considerable infrastructure would be dangerously exposed to the corrosive effect of stray current. The solution is to bury an electrical cable (metallic ground return) along the entire length of the power line to capture this stray current. In the present plan, the new Riel inverter for Bipole III is located to the east of Winnipeg, meaning that the transmission line has to come down the west side of Lake Manitoba and curve around the south side of the city to reach the inverter. This makes the line very long and the inclusion of a ground cable on the west side “cost prohibitive.” The inverter system for Bipole I and II is far enough away from the city to present no problem as far as stray ground current is concerned. Building the transmission line on the east side would mean a shorter ground line that “could be economically viable and could support more than one Bipole line.” It would also mean the construction of a new inverter station further away from Winnipeg.

    2. Harmonic currents and voltages. Bipole III is designed to operate with two-lines (bi-pole), but can operate with one (mono-pole), if one of the lines has to be taken out of service. When this happens, the earth is used as a return conductor for the total line current. Problems can occur, however, if the line goes through densely populated and industrialized areas because of “flashover.” Examples of when flashover can happen include:
      1. - When there is statically charged grain dust during harvesting in close proximity to the 500,000 volt transmission line.
      2. - When there is a high pressure natural gas pipeline failure due to electro-chemical corrosion.
      3. - When explosives are detonated prematurely in blasting operations.
      4.  - Where railroad tracks have been weakened and railway signalling systems compromised.


Roschuk wrote that the above issues had not been addressed in the “Bi-Pole III routing decision making process” and that the environmental and ecological arguments against the east side option had been “more than adequately disqualified by well respected professionals such as Jim Collinson, Prof. James Blatz and others.” He asserted that “the selection of transmission line routing should be based on sound engineering practices as well as economic, environmental and ecological considerations.” Any decision on the location of Bipole III also needs to include “provisions to accommodate transmission of the total Nelson River generating capacity” because when the full potential of the Nelson River is realized, “many additional compatible Bipoles” will have to be built.

In his concluding paragraphs, Roschuk noted that the Hydro decision to “distance Bipole III from Bipoles I and II was to avoid losing all three lines,” if an event occurred like the wind storm of 1996 that knocked out both Bipole I and II. He added that Manitoba pioneered the “world’s longest HVDC transmission lines when Bipoles I and II were built,” and the performance of each has been “impeccable” in the years since. The credit must be given to “Manitoba Hydro’s engineering department and the private consultants” involved in the development of those two power lines. The routing of Bipole III on the west side of Lake Manitoba is simply not “Power Smart,” and will “severely compromise the reputation of Manitoba Hydro.”

Discussion: This is a well reasoned argument against the west side option chosen by the Doer government. It raises many questions. For instance, what weaknesses in the existing political structure of this province allows a government to bi-pass advice from engineering experts like John Roschuk? Why did they not have more say? What are the dangers posed when high-pressure lobbyists, unelected and often foreign to boot, intervene in the decision-making process? Research to find out why some governments are putting restrictions on lobbyists. Premier Doer’s decision to move BiPole III to the west side will cost the Manitoba tax-payer an additional half billion dollars (and rising), unless it is stopped. Is that decision morally or ethically defensible, when any number of worthwhile projects remain on hold because of lack of money? Food for thought.

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Click on the footnote number to return to the text:

[1] James Blatz, Ph.D., P.Eng.; Ron Britton, Ph.D., P. Eng.; Nazim Cicek, Ph.D., P. Eng.; Shawn Clark, Ph.D., P.Eng.; Ani Gore, Ph.D., P.Eng., Jim Graham, Ph.D., FEIC, P.Eng.; Richard Johnson, P.Eng.; Mal Symonds, P.Eng.