Recent expropriation tactics by Manitoba Hydro toward farmers show how desperate the current government is to complete Bipole III and prevent any reconsideration of alternatives after the election. In reality, there is no urgent need for the immediate expropriation. The use of RCMP teams as backup to access land yet to be negotiated is a form of bullying, hardly a tactic expected of a Crown corporation established to provide a “public good.”
Clearly, having to rely on the RCMP indicates that the Crown corporation believes its capacity to bully rather than consult may be reaching an end in a matter of weeks. All this from a public utility that used to be regarded as a fair and respected organization serving a public need with compassion and probity.
Although mistakes were made during the construction and operation of the Grand Rapids Dam in the 1960s, no one can argue that Hydro at that time lacked compassion. It was entering a new era of large dam construction and openly did its best to take the consequences into account. It consulted, hired specialists to look into impacts, and even though in retrospect itmade mistakes, it had to be credited for honest attempts. Unfortunately, that historical respect for those impacted has gone by the wayside.
Recently, Manitoba Hydro has unilaterally decided to limit its compensation to landowners to the small plot of land needed for each tower. It ignores the impacts of “field disruption” on modern machinery operations, height limits and safety factors.
Officials seem to believe that as the lines per se do not contact the ground, they have no impact on farm operations. If smoke from forest fires can trigger flashovers, why can’t dust from combines do the same? How much extra time and cost is required to work a field when there are obstacles to be negotiated without losing the use of any more land than absolutely necessary? None of these considerations has been taken into account. In addition, when impacts occur annually, compensation should be paid annually not as a “present value” upfront payment which doesn’t take into account ongoing costs and gets lost if the farm changes ownership.
The urgency for completing land acquisition appears to have two objectives. The first is to move the acquisition ahead quickly enough so it will be essentially done before the magical date of April 19. The second is to keep the cost of expropriation as low as possible, even though, despite the provisions of the Expropriation Act, there is clear requirement for the price to be fair.
Ignoring the impacts noted above totally disregards fairness as a requirement. More seriously, Hydro is not prepared to consider the complexities of agricultural operations and business today.
Farmers, over the years, have willingly made way for a variety of public projects (roads, floodways, dams etc.), expecting no more than fair compensation, and often providing access or land for public use simply because it made sense. In the case of Bipole III, they deserve fair compensation for any losses or additional expenses associated with this public project, short and long term. They clearly don’t feel, nor should they feel, that they must contribute to the government’s priority by an extraordinary donation of value from their own property.
There is continuing justification for an overall review of the project itself. One possibly more economically viable option would be to co-operate with Saskatchewan and Alberta to divert hydro electricity from Bipole II to both provinces, thereby providing a market for Manitoba energy and a potential means of reducing carbon emissions in both provinces by reducing coal generation. In particular, this would go a long way to help Saskatchewan meet forthcoming cuts to greenhouse emissions, far cheaper than the carbon sequestering coal plant recently put into operation.
The Manitoba Government must show appropriate respect for both Manitoba taxpayers and landowners, being fair while avoiding extraordinary burdensome debts. That said, producing clean electricity can help reduce Canada’s overall carbon footprint by replacing coal- and oil-fired generators. There is an opportunity for Manitoba to be a positive player in the reduction of Canada’s carbon emissions without sacrificing its capacity to finance the goals aspired to by society for the province’s future.
Jim Collinson is a consultant based in Kanata, Ont.