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Metis criticize proposed hydro dam, Manitoba government for lack of consultation

WINNIPEG - Manitoba Metis are accusing the province of running roughshod over their constitutional rights in its haste to build a northern hydro dam to export energy to the United States.

David Chartrand, president of the Manitoba Metis Federation, said they will fight the proposed Keeyask generating station — and the transmission line that goes along with it — even as both inch closer to construction.

"This is the largest land swap we'll see happening, where we lose our rights to the land, since 1870," Chartrand said Wednesday. "We're losing 64 square kilometres. This has a massive effect on us."

But Chartrand said the province hasn't properly consulted the Metis or considered how the hydro projects will hurt commercial Metis fishers and destroy trapping lines. According to an April 2014 letter from Manitoba Conservation outlining the government's legal opinion, the rights of the Metis "fall at the low end of the spectrum of consultation."

"It's absolutely absurd," Chartrand said. "Just because you have a small population doesn't make your rights any less. That's not how our country runs."

The province's Clean Environment Commission recommended Wednesday the government issue an environmental licence for the proposed Keeyask generating station. The commission has issued a report that attaches some conditions to the licence, including better protection for caribou and lake sturgeon.

On the commission's recommendation, the province granted an environmental licence to the plan to build a 1,300-kilometre transmission line up the west side of Lake Manitoba, which would carry the electricity from the northern dams down to the U.S. Midwest.

Manitoba Hydro and its First Nations partners want to start construction on the $6.5-billion project on the Nelson River by this summer. The project still needs approval from the Public Utilities Board, which is expected to issue a report next month, before the final decision is made by the province.

Conservation Minister Gord Mackintosh said the government is taking the commission's recommendations under advisement, alongside the ongoing consultation with First Nations and the Metis.

He wouldn't comment on his department's characterization that the Metis "fall at the low end of the spectrum of consultation" or say if he agreed with that opinion.

"There are constitutional requirements that mandate consultation with the Metis and we would expect that is being complied with," Mackintosh said.

The Tories are also accusing the NDP of moving too quickly to build the dam without doing enough research. Conservative critic Ralph Eichler said the commission's decision puts undue pressure on the Public Utilities Board that has a say in whether the project goes ahead.

Not enough information has been made public to show the project is in the best interests of taxpayers, he said.

"What's the rush?" he said. "If it's such a great deal, tell us about it."

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