Bipole III Coalition Ends Its 8-Year Run

by Graham Lane

Published in the Winnipeg Sun, November 23, 2018

The Bipole III Coalition has ended its valiant eight-year effort to cut the damage resulting from the financially disastrous expansion of Manitoba Hydro’s transmission and hydro-electric generation network. The Coalition began by advocating for a shorter route for Bipole III gradually expanding its views to critique Hydro’s overall expansion.

The Coalition was established in 2010 by a group of engineers, most retired from careers in Manitoba Hydro, the University of Manitoba, and consultants. They were joined by landowners in the Red River Valley (Bipole III runs right through the heart of Manitoba’s most productive agro-climatic region) and a former Chair of the Public Utilities Board.

While the Coalition’s initial concern was the west-side routing of Bipole III, it realized that, as unfortunate as the routing decision was, Hydro’s overall expansion plan (inclusive of three new generating plants, Bipole III and a new Manitoba-Minnesota transmission line) was the greater concern. With prices for surplus generation plummeting with oil and gas fracking and energy efficiency efforts and Hydro’s expansion costs exploding, it became clear that ratepayers would be left to pay for an expansion for which no reasonable plan existed to recover the enormous debt.

Despite the Coalition’s efforts, beginning six years before the end of NDP government and continuing to its recently announced wind-up, and after its efforts to reduce the scale of the economic boondoggle now continuing under Pallister’s PC reign, the Coalition tried but failed to bring about needed changes.

The costs of northern generation plants at Wuskwatim and Keeyask will exceed by a large margin the estimates upon which the projects were licensed. And, the cost of the Bipole III transmission project is more than double the original estimate. Ratepayers and/or taxpayers will be stuck with paying. Farmers, whose land is in the path of the Bipole III transmission line, are just beginning to deal with the cost, inconvenience and risk of towers in a line that splits their fields into parts. And, the claim that Bipole III was needed for reliability has still never been proven.

Hydro has way more capacity to generate electricity than Manitobans need. The surplus will be sold, cheaply, while Hydro projects its debt to reach $25 billion (a mortgage on every ratepayer). Past proponents in the NDP government and Hydro who championed the expansion are long gone, living comfortably on pensions and termination benefits while Hydro’s reputation as the ‘crown jewel’ of the province is in tatters. The best Manitobans can hope for is that the latest limited review, recently announced by Pallister, will establish a framework to prevent similar mistakes in the future.

During its tenure, the Coalition amassed a trove of documents related to Bipole III and the overall expansion. These documents disclose how the grave consequences the Coalition predicted over time have, sadly, came to pass. I recommend a visit to the Coalition’s website, www.bipoleiiicoalition.ca.

Populated by knowledgeable leaders of the Bipole III Coalition, a new volunteer Manitoba Energy Council led by Garland Laliberte (retired U of M Dean of Engineering) and Dennis Woodford (President of Electranix) has taken shape. They take the view that the past is in the past and the future can be managed only by accepting that the starting point of the future is the present.

Lamont’s Liberals, Doomed to Be an Also Runner

by Graham Lane

Published in the Winnipeg Sun, November 9, 2018

Two years ahead of the next Manitoba provincial election, Brian Pallister’s PC government has a healthy poll lead over both the provincial NDP and Liberal parties. Pallister’s large lead comes from two sources – rural constituencies and a lack of serious competition in Winnipeg. Despite coming off a devastating tour in government under NDP’s Greg Selinger, the NDP still remains competitive in Winnipeg. The Liberals are polling higher than they are likely to get in the next election, as the party seeks to drain off votes from the NDP rather than cultivate the fiscal conservative vote.

Dougald Lamont, the recently minted Liberal Party leader, won the St. Boniface constituency – the seat was held for two decades by former NDP Premier Greg Selinger. This brought the Liberal’s seat count in the legislature to four – just enough for party status. Historically, for well over a half a century with one exception (when Sharon Carstairs brought up the Liberals to opposition status in 1988), Manitoba’s Liberal party have had their best results in polls ahead of provincial elections. Since 1988, they have never come close to winning government. Lamont is no Sharon Carstairs: she campaigned against the PCs as well as the NDP, understanding that taxpayers prefer having more money in their pockets instead of in the hands of a spendthrift provincial government.

In July, Lamont staked out his perspective on spending and taxation. Shockingly, he suggested that a Liberal provincial government would not be averse to even higher taxes and more provincial deficits. Basically, Lamont is chasing the NDP vote, ignoring fiscal conservatives – voters that prefer lower taxes and an end to provincial deficits.

With the NDP struggling to hold on to the union and Indigenous vote, Lamont’s leftward drift left leaves the path open for another comfortable win for Pallister’s PCs in 2020. With the campaign field as it is now, any voter that would appreciate a government that ‘can count’, one that at least talks about cutting the string of government deficits that began with the NDP, will vote PC. Unfortunately, a Pallister government, re-elected in 2020, would be a disaster for sane fiscally conservative voters. It would pave the way for a return of the NDP in 2024, and that would mean that an opportunity to transform and right the good ship Manitoba would have been lost.

Pallister, an ineffective micro-manager, is an old-style ‘my way or the highway’ conservative. He thinks Manitoba’s economic woes can be solved by gradual nickel and ‘dime style’ austerity and minor salary restraint. He leaves the massive bureaucracy mostly at peace while chopping productivity-enhancing road and infrastructure projects. Desperately needed big picture reform is not happening – so the low-performing, expensive monopoly systems in healthcare, education, welfare and justice creak along undisturbed.

With the NDP heading towards the perilous identity politics swamp, and the provincial Liberals concentrating on the wrong target, what sensible fiscally conservative folks (who are social liberals) need is a new party. A party that is not afraid to up the ante – embracing real public sector reform, creating excellent high performing public services, embracing fiscal responsibility to tackle the NDP’s deficit and debt mess, and reducing taxes to create a stronger, more vibrant and competitive private sector.