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Settlements Still Outstanding

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The Northern Flood Agreement was entered to into in 1977. Manitoba Hydro and the federal and provincial governments agreed to compensate members of five bands (First Nations) for the negative effects of Hydro’s pre-1980 northern developments.

The consortium committed to provide four acres of new land for every acre flooded; expand and protect indigenous wildlife harvesting rights; pay $5-million for economic development projects for the five First Nations communities; and, provide aboriginal employment opportunities. The agreement, strengthened in 1996 with respect to compensating individual claimants, deals with “any adverse effects to the lands, pursuits, activities and lifestyles of reserve residents”. Was a cost for fulfilling the commitments ever forecast?

Hydro’s 2015-16 annual report indicates that the Utility has so far recorded costs of $1.06 billion for mitigating the effects of it’s northern developments. Despite seemingly ever-growing costs and the passage of almost 40 years, negotiations still continue with about 320 remaining individual claimants. Claims were required to be filed by 2001.

Six Manitoba legal firms represent the remaining claimants. Hydro is represented by Thompson Dorfman Sweatman, a major Winnipeg legal firm. Michael Werier, a well-known ‘go to’ lawyer for the NDP government, acts as arbitrator of disputed claims. Werier is also arbitrating the outstanding collective agreement renewal between the Province and 14,000 civil servants represented by the MGEU. Despite the passage of 38-years since the signing of the Northern Flood Agreement, an office is still maintained at 363 Broadway, Winnipeg.

How can it be that despite the passage of almost four decades since the projects related to the NFA were completed and 14-years after the last date for filing claims that over 300 individual claims remain outstanding? While the lawyers for the remaining claimants received partial compensation for their work until 2011, nothing since. Contrarily, Hydro’s lawyer and the government-appointed arbitrator is regularly paid by Hydro.

Meters running, lawyers are slowly winnowing down the claim; some found to be without merit. It remains unclear how many of the remaining claims will survive the ongoing testing process. Once this process has been concluded, settlement processes will take place with arbitrator Werier making the final decisions. Approved claims are to paid with interest.

Incredibly, a decision has yet to be made as to whether claims survive the death of claimants. Of the individual claims. many claimants are elderly and some have already died.

How is it possible that almost forty years after the reputed damages individual claims remain outstanding? And, where exactly went the $1 billion plus Hydro indicates already either paid or provided for to mitigate damages due to flooding reserve lands for its dams? Will Wuskwatim, finished, and Keeyask, under construction, bring forth new obligations?

Has any external audit of the expenditures made to-date ever been undertaken? Shouldn’t a review of over billion dollars of costs factoring into rates be required? Has the federal and provincial governments contributed anything towards Hydro’s costs?

Does the laggard settlement process now underway represent justice for the aging claimants?

The Aboriginal Justice Inquiry reported as to the NFA: “… the reaction from Aboriginal people has been far from positive … Metis and off-reserve Indians … still complain bitterly”.

Dave Shorr

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