Community groups merge to better ‘hold Manitoba Hydro accountable’

Two grassroots organizations have joined forces and say they will now work to keep Manitoba Hydro accountable to the public, the environment, and communities directly affected by the actions of the Crown Corporation.

The Manitoba Energy Justice Coalition (MEJC) and the Wa Ni Ska Tan Alliance of Hydro-Impacted Communities said they have formed the Manitoba Hydro Accountability Board (HAB), an organization they say will work to “hold Manitoba Hydro accountable to the public.”

Both MEJC and the Wa Ni Ska Tan Alliance say they have concerns about the way Hydro currently operates in Manitoba, and believe because of their own goals and mandates as organizations, that the newly-appointed board should have a say in decisions made by Hydro.

“Sitting on the HAB are Elders and knowledge keepers, hydro-impacted community members, scientists, lawyers, activists, students, and youth,” HAB said in its media release.

“This team provides a unified community voice offering support and advice to ensure a responsible, sustainable and accountable MB Hydro.”

MEJC currently operates as a community-led alliance of volunteers living in Manitoba “committed to climate action and climate justice.”

The organization also says they are also committed to “confronting and addressing the harms that colonization has caused and is still causing,” to Indigenous people and communities in this province, and to “supporting the demands of the Land Back movement.”

And for more than seven years, the Wa Ni Ska Tan Alliance of Hydro-Impacted Communities has been working in Manitoba to document and evaluate the impacts of Hydro on First Nation communities, land, water, and livelihoods, with the goal of increasing awareness of the impacts of hydroelectric projects and “fostering social and environmental change.”

Both organizations say they united to form HAB because of a number of concerns regarding Hydro, including what they say is a “lack of accountability” to the public, and to those affected communities.

“The current MB Hydro board does not provide sufficient oversight or accountability to the Crown Corporation,” said Lisa Bellemare, who has been appointed as chair of the board of HAB.

“Their members are appointed by provincial politicians behind closed doors, and their own decision-making process is not transparent or publicly accountable.

“MB Hydro has free reign to build questionable projects using public funds.”

The group also said that Hydro could be doing more to combat climate change and to be more accountable to Indigenous communities that are affected by Hydro’s actions and decisions.

“The HAB debunks MB Hydro’s misrepresentation as a green utility operating for the consumer,” Bellemare said.

In an email, Manitoba Hydro spokesperson Bruce Owen rejected any notion that Hydro has not been accountable to the public.

“To suggest Manitoba Hydro is not accountable to those we serve is simply untrue,” Owen said.

In the email, Owen listed recent and upcoming events which he said prove Hydro is working to communicate with Manitobans.

“As it happens, our annual public meeting is March 14. The meeting will include a question-and-answer session with members of our executive team,” Owen said. “We’re also in the early stages of our 2023-24 & 2024-25 General Rate Application at the Public Utilities Board. Public hearing dates are scheduled to begin May 15.

“Lastly, Manitoba Hydro President and CEO Jay Grewal appeared before the Standing Committee on Crown Corporations on Jan. 12.”

HAB said that although MEJC and Wa Ni Ska Tan helped create HAB, the board and its members will operate as an independent entity and “welcome further networking and partnership opportunities.”

— Dave Baxter is a Local Journalism Initiative reporter who works out of the Winnipeg Sun. The Local Journalism Initiative is funded by the Government of Canada.

Dave Baxter, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Winnipeg Sun