WINNIPEG - The federal government has approved a $453-million Manitoba-Minnesota power transmission project that has been the source of friction between Premier Brian Pallister and the Manitoba Metis Federation.
The 213-kilometre, 500-kilovolt line would stretch from a point northwest of Winnipeg and cross the Canada-United States border near the small Manitoba community of Piney.
Natural Resources Canada says the project is subject to 64 Manitoba licence conditions and another 28 from the National Energy Board to ensure construction safety, environmental protection and ongoing participation for Indigenous groups.
Pallister clashed with the Metis over the project last year when he quashed a 50-year deal worth $67 million that had been negotiated between the federation and Manitoba Hydro to help support the transmission line. The premier called it "persuasion money" to a special interest group.
In response, nine of 10 Hydro board members resigned. They said Pallister had refused to meet with them to discuss important issues, including Indigenous rights.
The federation filed for a judicial review seeking to overturn the decision. It is to be heard by the courts in September.
Federation president David Chartrand suggested Friday that it's time for the premier to sit down at the negotiating table now that the project has been approved.
"The green light is there. My olive branch is there. Let's sit down at the table and come to terms," he said.
Chartrand said he has spoken with the new president of the Hydro board and is optimistic that the Crown utility will uphold its commitment to Metis people. He hopes Pallister will see that it's better for all Manitobans if the matter doesn't end up before the courts.
"There's a pathway forward and a right way to do it," he said.
The federal government has ordered the board to amend five project conditions to respond to concerns raised by Indigenous groups during consultation. Manitoba Hydro spokesman Bruce Owen said the corporation is to receive more details in the coming weeks.
"We have to now begin to meet those conditions before we can begin construction," he said.
The government also calls for an initiation to support Indigenous-led studies on the project.
The initial goal was to have the project completed by June 2020, Owen said, but the construction schedule will depend on weather and Manitoba Hydro meeting the conditions.
Rochelle Squires, Manitoba's sustainable development minister, said the province has worked with Indigenous partners and the Crown utility to ensure proper consultation on the project.
"Manitoba is always ready to sit at the table and talk about the conditions," she said.
It's an important project which would displace more than 1.5 megatonnes of carbon emissions by removing the need for coal south of the border, she added.
Federal Natural Resources Minister Amarjeet Sohi said in a statement that the line will enhance the competitiveness of Canada's electricity market while creating good jobs.
"Canadians understand that a clean, modern, and resilient electricity network helps fight climate change and transition to a lower carbon economy," he said.