Manitoba Hydro is owned by the people of Manitoba.
So shouldn’t Manitoba Hydro have to be accountable to the people? Should it really be allowed to spend $223,531,822.71 and not tell you?
The answer of course is "yes, it should be transparent and accountable." But in reality Hydro has spent nearly a quarter of a billion dollars and refuses to disclose how. Meanwhile, your Hydro rates continue to increase.
According to Manitoba Hydro, the expenses are allegedly related to discussions with northern aboriginal reserves and the impact future hydro dams could have on their communities.
Years ago, Hydro signed agreements with reserves that allowed them to go out and hire consultants, lawyers and rack up other bills related to the dam projects and then hand them over to Manitoba Hydro for payment. At the same time, Hydro promised to keep all the details confidential and the bands would only be on the hook for a portion of the expenses down the road.
In other words, Hydro agreed to a recipe for disaster.
Why on earth would Hydro guarantee secrecy? Why wouldn’t the province step in and do something years ago when the Canadian Taxpayers Federation, a non-profit taxpayers watchdog group, brought this to their attention?
The answer might lie in what the money was spent on.
Whistleblowers have come forward to suggest people living on some reserves have been paid large sums of money to attend public meetings on the Hydro projects. The meetings were apparently full of door prizes such as expensive video game systems, flat-screen TVs and freezers.
One whistleblower even produced a cheque stub from funds she received from one of the consulting companies hired to do work for the negotiations. The cheque stub was for $1,225.
Meanwhile, Manitoba Hydro has put its head in the sand and pretended like the allegations and evidence don’t exist. It likes to believe somehow it doesn’t need to concern itself with the matter.
Hydro has even refused to disclose information requests from the Canadian Taxpayers Federation (CTF) for details on an item smack in the middle of its 2011 Annual Report — "A First Nation terminated an employee for altering invoices payable to the corporation."
The CTF filed complaints with the Ombudsman’s office about Manitoba Hydro’s refusal to disclose how $224 million was spent. Sadly, we lost that challenge.
However, as we consider next steps, we’re proud that the whistleblower we’ve been helping on this issue has been elected to her community’s band council up north. Even better, the entire council is brand new and they’re all keen to find out where the money went.
One thing is for certain, when a public body can get away with spending $224 million and refuse to explain how, we have a serious flaw in our province’s information disclosure laws.
This issue is a goldmine of an opportunity for Brian Pallister’s Progressive Conservatives and Jon Gerrard’s Liberals to explain what they would do to change information laws and improve accountability at Manitoba Hydro.
In the meantime, we’ll be "damned" if we let this issue go away.
» Colin Craig is Manitoba director Canadian Taxpayers Federation, the country’s leading non-partisan citizens’ advocacy group fighting for lower taxes, less waste and accountable government.