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Hydro cover-ups need scrutiny

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14Oct

By: Graham Lane

Published: October 14, 2016, Winnipeg Sun

Manitoba Hydro spreads ratepayer money across the north building unneeded dams and
questionable transmission lines. The utility uses contractors, lawyers and consultants. While
Manitoba’s Auditor General found much wrong with the former NDP government’s east-side
road efforts, he has yet to plumb the depths of Hydro’s actions.

Why audit the east-side effort but not Hydro? While the east-side authority spent hundreds of
millions of our money, Hydro spends billions.

The east-side authority has been wound-up, the manager dismissed and operations rolled into
the government’s infrastructure department. Disclosing misjudgments of the NDP’s east -side
organization makes good public and political sense. As for Hydro, the Pallister government,
having decided to continue the NDP-originated boondoggle, has yet to order an audit of Hydro’s
northern actions. Not hard to figure out why: while making Hydro theirs, best not to risk finding
out and publicizing their utility’s misdeeds.

If misdeeds were found and publicized, one can only speculate if it would affect funds to flow
from the continuing boondoggle to the new government’s coffers, or hurt an upcoming carbon
tax gambit being planned by the PCs involving Hydro.

Rumours abound about questionable actions of Hydro, its contractors and agents. Closing in on
a billion on ‘negotiations’ with First Nations and another $7 billion already gone on building
Wuskwatim (finished), Bipole III and Keeyask (well underway, with another $8 billion yet to
flush), billions pour through the hands of Hydro’s contractors, lawyers and consultants. Never
before in Manitoba’s history has so much been spent by a government agency. Yet no audit, no
inquiry, no review.

Avoiding independent scrutiny, Hydro lives a charmed life.

The utility’s former risk manager – named the New York whistleblower – raised alarms ten years
ago, well before the bulk of the boondoggle expenditures were spent or committed. She warned
of the risk of betting billions on long-term export contracts with American utilities to cover off
rising expansion costs. She reported her concerns: first to Hydro management, then to its
board, then to the-then Auditor General (who, having been a Hydro director and audit committee
chief before being named Auditor General, declared a conflict of interest), then to the then-
Ombudsman, police, PUB and, finally, a New York court. All to no avail.

The whistleblower was fired, no independent review conducted. Hydro spent over $4 million
defending against her claims. Why, to avoid scrutiny? Trouble is, if she had been taken seriously
ratepayers wouldn’t be in the disaster we now have.

BBE Constructors, a joint venture led by American giant Bechtel managing Hydro’s $7 billion
plus Keeyask project, is currently defending claims of unsafe working conditions and unfair
labour practices, claims sustained by quickly terminated Keeyask workers. BBE’s defence has
been assisted by Hydro; the Province’s workplace health and safety and labour agencies; even
the WCB. Whistleblowing is not healthy for complainants. The disaffected terminated workers
have been blocked at every turn, their complaints rejected and ignored.

Rumours abound of questionable actions of Hydro’s agents, some working to keep First
Nations’ happy with the utility. There’s lots more about untendered bush clearing and other
gilded-gifted contracts. Where is the auditor? Value for money?

More puzzling, why do the Tories want to wear this NDP mess?

Graham Lane leads Manitoba Forward (manitobaforward.ca).

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