Treaty One Territory, Métis Homeland, Winnipeg, MB - Manitoba Liberals are joining the O-Pipon-Na-Piwin and Tataskweyak Cree Nations in asking the PC Government to hold off on granting a final licence to Manitoba Hydro for its decades-old Churchill River Diversion until the serious concerns raised by O-Pipon-Na-Piwin and Tataskweyak Cree Nations are addressed.
The Pallister Government is considering granting a final licence to Manitoba Hydro's Churchill River Diversion, which became fully functional in 1976, but has only ever operated with an "interim" license for a full 45 years. In addition to this, Manitoba Hydro has deviated from the interim licence by implementing an Augmented Flow Program which has been approved on a yearly basis since 1986, but its impact has never been properly assessed and reviewed.
"Before the government grants Manitoba Hydro a final licence, Hydro needs to demonstrate it can take the concerns of First Nations seriously," said Dougald Lamont, Leader of the Manitoba Liberal Party, MLA for St. Boniface, and the Liberal Critic for Conservation and Climate, and Manitoba Hydro. "Every Manitoban should know that for 45 years, successive PC and NDP governments have allowed Manitoba Hydro to flood northern communities and ruin livelihoods with a licence that isn't much more than scribble on the back of a napkin. All we are asking is that the Government and Manitoba Hydro do the right thing and respect the wishes of these First Nations and treat them fairly."
Les Dysart, who is the lead on Hydro issues for O-Pipon-Na-Piwin Cree Nation notes that the current annual approval for the Augmented Flow Program expires on May 15.
"We are concerned that Minister Sarah Guillemard will continue to approve this in a non-transparent manner," said Dysart. "We are also concerned she will make a decision on a Final Licence for CRD without consulting us in a meaningful way or accommodating our concerns. No more License Destroy!"
Tataskweyak Councillor Robert Spence said, "The government has allowed Hydro to take the Sturgeon on the Churchill River to the brink of extinction. We need Minister Guillemard to stop the Augmented Flow Program and operate CRD in a way that ensures the full protection and survival of the endangered Churchill River Sturgeon. We share the same fate as the Sturgeon."
Manitoba Liberals say the PC Government must require Hydro to clean up its act before issuing a Final Licence.
"For years, the Churchill River Diversion has caused serious and devastating harm to communities and the environment," said Manitoba Liberal Agriculture and Resource Development Critic, Dr. Jon Gerrard, MLA for River Heights. "The people of O-Pipon-Na-Piwin and Tataskweyak Cree Nations have been waiting too long to be treated fairly and as full partners moving forward. It is time to make this right with a commitment to repair the damage that has been done."
Local First Nations have plentiful evidence of massive disruptions to local habitats, with once-plentiful fisheries that have been driven to extinction as Hydro flushes colossal amounts of water through lakes.
In 1986, Manitoba Hydro substantially increased the amount of water being held and flushed out of South Indian Lake under the "augmented flow program." Shorelines have been washed into the lake, leaving it muddy. Instead of regular seasonal flows of water, Hydro's huge flows of water have ruined habitats and destroyed commercial and community fisheries that First Nations depended on for food and jobs.
There has been a drastic decline in the Whitefish fishery on Southern Indian Lake (to less than one tenth of the number of fish being caught compared to 1995), and a drastic decline in the number of Sturgeon in the lower Churchill between Missi Falls and Hudson Bay. The Whitefish fishery was the bedrock of the economy for O-Pipon-Na-Piwin Cree Nation employing, at one time, 140 fishers and their extended families.
In support of O-Pipon-Na-Piwin Cree Nation and Tataskweyak Cree Nation, Manitoba Liberals are calling for the following measures to be taken in a spirit of healing, reconciliation and fair sharing of benefits:
1) A meaningful say for people in O-Pipon-Na-Piwin and Tataksweyak Cree Nations in decisions surrounding the operation of the Churchill River Diversion and in the mitigation of adverse impacts from the past 45 years. This is to include participation in scientific research on impacts and on decisions around mitigation of the adverse impacts.
2) Financial support to the communities of O-Pipon-Na-Piwin and Tataskwayak Cree Nations to include a share of income from the sale of hydroelectric power derived from the Churchill River Diversion or alternatively for a share of the water rental fee that Hydro pays to the province to go to O-Pipon-Na-Piwin and Tataskwayak Cree Nations.
3) Full mitigation of the adverse impacts of the Churchill River Diversion to include measures to support recovery of the lake whitefish and sturgeon, including consideration of a fish passage at Missi Falls so that fish can swim upstream from the Lower Churchill River to Southern Indian Lake.
4) Return to the originally approved Churchill River Diversion licence and a suspension of the Augmented Flow Program.
5) Increased flows down the de-watered Lower Churchill River especially at the time of Sturgeon spawning.
6) Implement substantial fines to Manitoba Hydro for any violations of its licence with the money from any fines to go to the O-Pipon-Na-Piwin and Tataskweyak Cree Nations.
7) Measures to ensure there are no massive unnatural flushes of water down the Lower Churchill River.
8) Meaningful involvement of First Nations in decision making about the Churchill River Diversion Operations and free, prior and informed consent of O-Pipon-Na-Piwin and Tataskweyak Cree Nations with respect to any future licence alterations.