Independent review report on Manitoba Hydro megaprojects coming Friday

The report from a long-awaited independent review of two Manitoba Hydro megaprojects — the Keeyask generation project and the Bipole III transmission project — will be released on Friday.

Premier Brian Pallister announced Wednesday that the review would be out Friday, while ripping into the Manitoba NDP, which ordered the projects when it was the ruling party. Both projects went on to face huge overruns.

“It’s a $10-billion burden put on Manitobans. That raises some questions,” Pallister said. “That burden means pressure on Hydro rates, pressure that will continue because of those investments, pressure that will grow, I’m sure, over many years to come.

“It’s unprecedented in the history of our province.”

The Keeyask generating station, which began producing electricity last week after nearly seven years of construction, was originally projected to cost $6.5 billion and expected to be in service by November of 2019. In March 2017, Hydro revised the cost estimate to $8.7 billion.

The Bipole III transmission line was completed in 2018. The cost for the project was pegged at $2.2 billion in 2007. In its 2018 annual report, Hydro said the total estimated cost was $5.04 billion.

Former Saskatchewan premier Brad Wall was hired by the Manitoba government in 2019 to probe the cost overruns on the projects.

Wall looked into “every aspect of the decision-making process that led to the construction plans being pushed forward” as well as how it went off the rails, according to Pallister.

“How did it happen that these projects which we were promised … wouldn’t cost us a cent, turned out so badly?” he said, noting the cost overruns tripled the debt of Manitoba Hydro.

“Manitobans deserve to know why this happened, they deserve to know how it happened … so that we make sure these types of mega-disasters don’t happen again,” he said, adding he has seen a draft of the report and has “a pretty good idea” of its general direction.

Review led by ‘king of coal’: NDP

Massive projects such as Keeyask that involve major financial and environmental implications would typically receive a full public hearing, Pallister said, but Keeyask did not.

He also wondered why the NDP allowed the projects to get to the construction stage before they were evaluated by the Public Utilities Board and the Clean Environment Commission.

“How were both projects able to move forward without that kind of oversight?” he said.

Opposition NDP Leader Wab Kinew said Wednesday that all investments made by Manitoba Hydro over the years have been approved by the PUB, accusing Pallister of spinning the truth.

The NDP leader criticized Wall’s appointment at the time his hiring was announced, questioning how independent the report would truly be. Wall became leader of the right-of-centre Saskatchewan Party in 2004, and was the province’s premier from 2007 to 2018. 

“The appointment of Mr. Wall . . . emphasizes the fact that this review is just a political exercise meant to justify Mr. Pallister’s cuts to Manitoba Hydro,” Kinew said in a statement in 2019.

Former Saskatchewan premier Brad Wall was hired in 2019 by the Manitoba government to probe cost overruns on two major Manitoba Hydro projects. (Mark Taylor/The Canadian Press)

He threw more jabs on Wednesday, calling Wall “the king of coal” and saying he comes from a province that “relies on dirty electricity.

“He knows nothing about hydro electricity,” Kinew said.

“I expect that this report is just going to be used as a political document for deregulation of our electricity supply here in Manitoba. And deregulation always spells higher bills for customers when it comes to hydro and electricity, and it creates an opportunity for big companies to make money at the expense of the average person.”

Manitoba Liberal Leader Dougald Lamont echoed criticisms of the impartiality of the report.

“I don’t expect it will be particularly fair,” he said.

“It’s a colossal waste of money to spend millions of dollars on yet another report to embarrass the NDP when the NDP should already be thoroughly embarrassed by their massive mismanagement of Hydro.”

Pallister accused the NDP of shutting out the public and leaving the process “in the dark.”

“Why would the previous government have driven Manitoba Hydro to do these projects? What role did politics play in influencing the decisions of Manitoba Hydro?” Pallister said.

“There are questions about whether the projects themselves even needed to be built.”

The review was ordered to find those answers and make sure Manitobans don’t see future situations where they’re left without input on multibillion-dollar decisions, Pallister said.

“I would hope that members of the Opposition would welcome this opportunity to learn more about the history of these projects [and] to learn more about the decision-making processes that led to their construction,” he said.

“In the meantime, I would ask most certainly that the Opposition pay attention because after all, it was their government that allowed this to happen.”