The battle over Bipole III

Political move could prove visionary in time

Nothing seems to anger Manitobans more than the east versus west power line debate. Specifically, Manitoba Hydro’s plan to build the Bipole III transmission line down the west side of the province.

It has been made clear in the past that fiddling with Crown corporations and their affairs is a dangerous political manoeuvre.

Howard Pawley and his government’s Autopac fee-increase scandal saw his NDP party collapse in 1988. Gary Filmon and his Progressive Conservative’s privatization of MTS made him very unpopular and gave a boost to Gary Doer’s NDP in 1999.

Presently we have the Bipole III decision. This issue has sparked immense anger among farmers and groups like the Canadian Taxpayers Federation.

Those who are angry about the fact that the transmission line will not run down the much cheaper east-side route have joined together to stop the Bipole III proposal as it stands now.

This anger has captured the mind of PC leader Hugh McFadyen, who said that if his party is elected in the 2011 provincial election he would scrap the project at all costs and save taxpayers over $400 million.

Apparently McFadyen’s PCs are not looking at things closely enough. Firstly, the $2.2 billion it will cost to put the transmission line down the west side will not be paid by the taxpayer, but by Manitoba Hydro rate-payers.

I cannot find a price tag of $2.2 billion anywhere in Manitoba’s 2010 provincial budget. However, it is in Manitoba Hydro’s budget.

If we are so enraged about a transmission line that is to cost $2.2 billion, why not also express anger at a $665 million floodway expansion?

What about Hydro proposing to spend over $5 billion on the Conawapa Hydro electric dam project, or the $1.3 billion Hydro spent on the Wuskwatim project?

Maybe it is because most of these projects were paid for by Hydro and not the taxpayer.

However, the taxpayers will not be paying for the Bipole III project either. Manitobans will pay for it as rate-payers.

Yet, Hydro rate-payers have not seen their hydro bills skyrocket by 20 or 30 per cent over the past year to pay for these costs.

In fact, Manitobans pay some of the lowest hydro rates in Canada.

On average, if you use 750 kilowatts in Winnipeg in a monthly period, it will cost you $54.70. In Regina, hydro users pay $94 for the same energy usage, and in Calgary it is around $83. In Toronto, you would be looking at over $100.

Also at stake is the fact that UNESCO wants to establish a world heritage site along the eastern boreal forest region of Manitoba, exactly where an east-side transmission line would run. This area features one of the last undisturbed boreal forests in the world.

It has been made clear in the past that fiddling with Crown corporations and their affairs is a dangerous political manoeuvre

Currently, less than eight per cent of Canada’s boreal forest is protected from industrial development and Manitoba’s boreal region is one of the few carbon sinks left on this planet.

A UNESCO designation will further the protection of marshes that clean millions of gallons of water every day, as well as the protection of endangered caribou species.

Putting the hydro line down the east side would throw a UNESCO designation into jeopardy. In so doing, it would cost Manitoba millions in eco-tourism.

We can also look to Manitoba political history as a reason to take the more initially expensive project in order to secure long-term gain.

Former premier Duff Roblin was heavily criticized for proposing and instituting the construction of the Red River Floodway, a project that wasn’t used until 1969 – two years after he left the premier’s office.

Now it is seen as a great political decision and Roblin has achieved political demigod status.

In time, a west-side Bipole III may be considered such a blessing in disguise.

Andrew Podolecki is a politics student at the University of Winnipeg.

Published in Volume 65, Number 12 of The Uniter (November 18, 2010)

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