Manitoba Hydro is building its transmission line to Minnesota even though the Métis asked the province to suspend Hydro’s licence for the project until it decides whether officials had done enough consultation.
The Manitoba Metis Federation accuses the province of trying to run out the clock by seeking more time to respond to its filings. But bureaucrats say they needed more time to analyze new information the MMF submitted.
“It’s likely the project’s going to be built and online before they even deal with the appeal,” said Jason Madden, the MMF’s lawyer for its appeal in front of the Environmental Act tribunal, which operates at arms-length from the Climate and Conservation department.
Madden says that body “moves at a glacial pace,” with appeals often taking more than a year, while Hydro has pegged the MMTP construction period as spanning roughly nine months.
That means the MMF likely won’t exhaust the steps required to seek a court injunction until it’s too late, Madden said.
Manitoba issued its licence for the project in April, and the federal Liberals followed suit in June. Hydro started its application for a licence in 2015.
Construction started shortly after, and Hydro’s website shows towers have been erected along most of the route.
The MMF has been challenging the province’s licence since May, arguing it had inadequately consulted Métis about how the project will affect them.
The province sought more time to respond to the MMF, which the appeal body accepted Nov. 27.
MMF President Chartrand wrote in a statement that “it’s dishonourable for Manitoba to manipulate an appeal process that it controls.” He called the process “a total sham.”
However, the province said Wednesday that its lawyers “felt that MMF presented information not previously presented, and as a result made a formal request for additional time to prepare the department’s response,” wrote a spokeswoman.
The MMF has also tried stalling the project on the federal level, though the federal Liberals ended up approving it, with some conditions.
Those conditions did not include requiring the Pallister government to restore a tentative deal it cancelled in March 2018, which would have given the MMF $67.5-million in exchange for not contesting the project.
First Nations have also opposed the project, at the federal and provincial level.
In late October, Sagkeeng First Nation sought a provincial court injunction on the project over what it deemed inadequate consultation.
The province noted the reserve hadn’t exhausted the channels of appealing the licence through the process the MMF is undertaking, and the court will have to decide whether the ongoing construction is enough grounds to leapfrog the other avenues of appeal.
Sagkeeng has previously argued that the line will disrupt local moose populations, and that herbicides used during construction will impact medicinal and food plants.
Premier Brian Pallister raised the project at a Monday meeting of his 12 counterparts, arguing that opponents could have hamstrung a carbon-reducing initiative.
He said Ottawa seems to prefer “consulting until the world just keeps heating up, in the absence of these projects.”