Disappointed to learn that his community’s Manitoba Hydro office is slated to close next month, Grandview Mayor Lyle Morran also said that he’s not too surprised.
It’s in keeping with ongoing efforts to centralize services at larger communities via "super-centres" that he said leave smaller communities in the lurch.
Grandview is one of 12 communities whose leadership learned this week that they’d lose their Manitoba Hydro offices beginning on May 19. The fellow Westman communities of Boissevain, Glenboro, McCreary and Pilot Mound will also see their Manitoba Hydro offices close.
"It’s always disappointing for a small town when you lose a business and you lose some employees," Morran said, adding that they will not only lose the affected employees, but also their families.
Municipality of Louise (Pilot Mound) Head of Council Kenneth Buchanan said that while he could foresee his community’s Manitoba Hydro office closing for some time, "there was nothing we were able to do about it."
"There’s not much point" in fighting, he added. "It’s futile. The government just decides what they’re going to do and they go ahead and do it."
His community’s Manitoba Hydro office employed one person, while Grandview’s office employed two.
This gutting of smaller Manitoba Hydro offices does not follow party lines.
Under the previous Manitoba NDP government, the closure of 24 offices was announced back in 2013, including several in Westman, and commenced in 2014.
Grandview’s office has been slowly chipped away at during the past decade, dropping from a peak of about 10 employees to its present two, Morran said.
While Morran said he supports the idea of Crown corporations saving money, he’s not convinced that closing smaller offices is the most efficient means of doing so.
Seeing the closure of his community’s Manitoba Hydro office on the horizon, he joined council in sending a group letter to Manitoba Hydro about a month ago that recommended alternative options that might save the Grandview office.
One recommendation was for Manitoba Hydro to shift one of Dauphin’s divisions to Grandview, Morran said.
"It would make more sense and the building’s already there; it would save them from doing a major expansion."
Morran said that they never received a response, although Manitoba Hydro public affairs officer Bruce Owen clarified on Wednesday that they hadn’t received the letter and that they’d follow up with Morran on Thursday.
In emailed correspondence, Manitoba Hydro noted that its current consolidation of 12 district offices in Manitoba completes its consolidation of 36 district offices that began in 2013.
This consolidation project is expected to reduce costs by about $2 million annually and avoid approximately $50 million in future costs associated with needed facility upgrades.
These offices have been declining in use during the past decade, according to Manitoba Hydro. In 2007, 24 per cent of customers paid their bills at district offices compared with six per cent in 2016.
Payments can also be made online or through telephone payments, at Canada Post locations and financial institutions.
While Manitoba Hydro also shut down smaller offices under the previous Manitoba NDP government, the opposition’s MLA for Fort Garry-Riverview nonetheless condemned their recent slate of office closures.
"The context is different," James Allum said of the Tories’ approach. "We were big supporters of Hydro, and that’s indicative of the buildout."
The infrastructure buildout undertaken by the NDP jacked up costs for the short-term, but would have evened out if it were given time, he said, offering that the Manitoba Tories are "downgrading" Manitoba Hydro’s reputation, which he said "doesn’t do anybody any good."
"Crown corporations like Manitoba Hydro are there to serve the people, and those good-paying jobs, when they’re lost to a small community, they’re quite significant."
» Twitter: @TylerClarkeMB