Native leaders are sharply divided over a proposed transmission link that would import electricity from Manitoba to power-hungry Ontario, potentially throwing a wrench into the Harper government's green plan.
Prime Minister Stephen Harper has earmarked $586-million of the $1.5-billion Canada EcoTrust Fund to help Ontario reduce greenhouse-gas emissions and fight climate change by building the so-called east-west link. Manitoba has an abundance of hydroelectric power, so the grid could supply Ontario with a clean source of power and help the province phase out its pollution-spewing coal plants. But the link cannot go ahead without the support of native communities in Northern Ontario because it would run through their traditional territories.
Native leaders in 19 of the 49 Northern Ontario reserves represented by the Nishnawbe-Aski Nation agreed late Thursday night to have their communities push ahead with the project and seek an ownership interest in it. But leaders of the remaining 30 communities said they could not throw their support behind the project until the Ontario government outlines its stand on broader economic development issues.
They want a revenue-sharing agreement with the government and a commitment on how the grid can become a springboard for other economic development initiatives.
And unlike the Kelowna accord, this is a gift that will keep on giving for the natives:
The project would involve spending about $10-billion to develop a 1,250-megawatt hydro dam known as Conawapa on the Nelson River in northeastern Manitoba. A high- voltage transmission line from the dam to James Bay in Northern Ontario and south to Timmins and Sudbury would cost another $1.5-billion.
The megaproject would take at least a decade to complete. But it is expected to run into stiff opposition from environmentalists, who will see the transmission line as a significant threat to the boreal forest. The project will not proceed until the Ontario government signs a long-term agreement with Manitoba to purchase the electricity produced at Conawapa. Talks are under way between the two provinces.
Which isn't to say that the Indians don't deserve their fair share for having the power lines run through their lands. They just aren't going to get it. Properly managed, the profits therefrom could lift their reserves out of poverty and into prosperity. But it never seems to happen that way.
Source: Globe and Mail