(Appeared as “Schreyer, tall in the saddle!” in print version)
Before a full room at a Fort Garry Rotary Club luncheon in September, a man who knows what he is talking about when Manitoba Hydro is concerned, severely critiqued the current NDP's Hydro expansion.
Meanwhile Hydro and its sole shareholder, the provincial government, continue to refuse to even acknowledge the risks being taken for Manitoba's consumers and economy.
Instead of facing up to the damage they are doing and reassessing the expansion, Selinger's crew is spending as much as is possible on its plan ahead of the upcoming provincial election. Refusing to respond to the criticisms of the expansion by truly opening up the books, contracts and commitments, the NDP now attempts to justify its actions as being necessary to save the planet.
Their latest ploy to fool the electorate into believing they "do good" is promising an environmental bill of rights and creating yet another new expensive environmental agency to monitor and control even more aspects of our lives.
With grievous construction over-runs, more bad news to come, and export prices in the tank, American utilities will gleefully buy our power at discounted prices subsidized by Manitobans. When a Crown corporation gives their president a massive raise and he still leaves, what's left to say?
Fortunately, former NDP Premier and Governor General Ed Schreyer has much to say.
Courageously and speaking plainly, he has broken away from his NDP colleagues to openly share his concerns about the massive misadventure expansion of Hydro's infrastructure. Past premiers of parties currently in power tend to keep their own counsel, so not to damage their successors.
Schreyer has tended to do that, with this one significant exception. Like former UK PM Margaret Thatcher, when the issue is of paramount importance he is his own man; his speaking out is commendable and in the public interest.
His verdict on the Hydro expansion was first publicly known when he joined former PC Premier Gary Filmon in expressing opposition in full page newspaper ads. He followed up by speaking at a Frontier Centre luncheon, where he called for a re-think of the expansion plan that he rightly considers foolhardy. A year later, his mind remains firm, firmly opposed to a risky and wasteful expansion.
At the recent Rotary luncheon (and in a newspaper article that followed), he again repeated his negative verdict on the NDP's colossal gamble using taxpayer-ratepayer money. Asked if he was still premier would he have agreed to the expansion, he paused for but a second or two and then said a resounding "no, not in these conditions."
Schreyer points out that when Hydro, with then his government's support, built dams on the Nelson River and planned for Limestone, the cost per unit of new generated power was but a mere fraction of what was spent on Wuskwatim and would be spent on Keeyask, Conawapa and Bipole III. Then, excess power could be sold to the Americans at a profit. Not now.
The Hydro expansion of Schreyer's day was smart, and led to a decade of frozen consumer rates. No such luck with this expansion.
Selinger should not hide behind "save the planet" platitudes and address the concerns expressed by the first NDP Premier. Spending unnecessary billions is not sustainable.