Hydro concerns aren't going away

Money laundering is illegal. This nefarious process takes “dirty” money and launders it “clean” in the eyes of the law. It is as old as the hills.

Graham Lane

Money laundering is illegal. This nefarious process takes “dirty” money and launders it “clean” in the eyes of the law. It is as old as the hills.

For a legal application of the concept, right here in Manitoba, just think Manitoba Hydro. The Government now takes $400 million a year — more than $1 million a day — from the utility in so-called “levies,” They come straight from Hydro’s struggling revenues, therefore ultimately from the pockets of every ratepayer. The government gets “fees” for providing loan guarantees for money borrowed and for “water rentals” and levies a tax on Hydro’s outstanding loans.

Perversely, the government has a substantial financial interest in encouraging Hydro to spend large on megaprojects like the Keeyask generating station. Is this not a howling conflict of interest, in which the government constantly preaches cost-cutting but, at the same time, milks ratepayers by pushing Hydro’s giant capital projects? Could this perhaps even be called “debt laundering?”

Concerned citizens, will be astonished to learn that Hydro’s debt is now headed for $25 billion — a $20,000 millstone of future debt for every man, woman and child in Manitoba. The fact that 100% of this debt — mainly for huge, doomed capital projects aimed at export sales to the U.S. — is being paid by ratepayers is also shocking. Nowhere else in Canada (or the U.S.) do provincial/state governments saddle domestic customers with such capital debts for exports.

The government, as the sole shareholder, must ultimately take total responsibility for Manitoba Hydro, its largest Crown Corporation. As has been asked many times before, why has there been no public inquiry into how Hydro got into such a financial mess? Credit rating agencies, such as S&P Global, have concluded that Manitoba Hydro cannot be considered “self-supporting,” putting the province at risk of further repeated credit downgrades. These downgrades have occurred twice during the last two years. Ultimately they result in higher interest rates threatening our economy.

Perhaps there still is hope.

All hats off to Steven Fletcher, the policy savvy MLA from Assiniboia, who last week took the bull by the horns and conducted his own “Citizens’ Inquiry” into Manitoba Hydro. I was pleased to be one of the presenters at last week’s first hearing. The proceedings were broadcast live on Facebook and can still be viewed on that social media site.

It’s an important story our politicians are trying to hide: suspect accounting, political smoke screens, dubious management, evaporating export markets, out-of-control costs, increasing electricity rates, and, likely, a collapse in public confidence in Hydro. It all demonstrates an urgent necessity for a full inquiry.

Fletcher’s inquiry reveals that Manitobans, one way or the other, have to get to the bottom of Hydro’s problems and to find fair and proper solutions. The Pallister government should hold a full independent inquiry as promised before the election — or at least commission more “forensic evaluations” of Hydro’s capital projects (as recently with Keeyask).

If this government doesn’t park its major conflict of interest and take action, citizens themselves will find a way forward. Contact the “Citizens’ Inquiry” to participate — on a confidential basis. Just go to CitizensInquiry on Facebook.

— Graham Lane leads Manitoba Forward (manitobaforward.ca).

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