Manitoba and Ontario consider
Thunder Bay, Ont. - The premiers of Manitoba and Ontario
met at a picturesque waterfall Friday to sign a document
that could lead to construction of a joint $5.5-billion
"We've agreed to move forward in developing a new
source of power," Ontario Premier Ernie Eves said
at Kakabeka Falls near Thunder Bay.
He said if a $2-million feasibility study shows the plan
is a good one, it could help reduce Ontario's greenhouse
gas emissions from power generation by one-sixth, helping
it meet its Kyoto requirements.
It involves building a new 1,250-megawatt hydroelectric
generating station in northern Manitoba. The station has
been on the drawing board at Manitoba Hydro for years
and already has a name, Conawapa, after a Blackfoot Indian
who accompanied explorer Anthony Henday on his trip through
It also involves a new transmission line to carry such
a huge amount of power into southern Ontario where it
is needed. That 1,250 megawatts is enough to service 600,000
It would further Manitoba Premier Gary Doer's goal of
seeing an east-west power grid developed in Canada.
"This just makes good economic sense as well as good
environmental sense," Mr. Doer said.
Ironically, the plant and line could have been operating
by now if an agreement the two provinces entered into
about 15 years ago had been fulfilled.
But Ontario Hydro backed out, paying Manitoba around $150-million
in penalties as a result.
The Ontario utility had decided it wouldn't need as much
power as it had estimated earlier and wanted to keep rates
as low as possible.
In hindsight, that was a bad decision, suggested Mr. Doer,
who was involved in the talks as a cabinet minister in
the government of then-premier Howard Pawley. The deal
finally fell apart after he moved into opposition in 1988
and Tory Premier Gary Filmon had taken control.
The federal government has agreed to chip in $300,000
to help pay the cost of the feasibility study, but it
has not yet agreed to pay the $1-billion Manitoba and
Ontario would like to see committed to a transmission
"I think we're going to encourage them to contribute
as much a possible," Mr. Eves said.
Ontario NDP Leader Howard Hampton pointed to Friday's
announcement as evidence that the Eves government has
mismanaged the hydro file.
"The Conservative government, the great deregulators
and privatizers, have had to rely on Manitoba's public
system to make sure the lights stay on in Ontario,"
Mr. Hampton said.
"Now, if only Ernie Eves will go all the way and
adopt my plan for a publicly owned hydro system."
The study will look at the economic and technical issues
involved in the project and will take only about six months
Assuming the answers are positive, much thornier environmental
issues will have to be tackled. The transmission line
poses a much greater potential environmental impact than
the generating station.
The damage from river diversions and flooding has already
been done in northern Manitoba and Conawapa would not
see water move outside the existing banks of the Nelson
River, where it would be located.
Over the last decade, Manitoba governments have tried
to smooth relations with northern First Nations angry
over past hydro-developments, to reduce their opposition
to new projects.
The effort has been reasonably successful, with only one
holdout, but that doesn't mean there won't be objections
raised during any environmental review of this project,
which will draw in First Nations not previously affected.
And the Western Canada Wilderness Committee has already
said Manitoba's woodland caribou population is threatened
both by Hydro's plans and by logging on the east side
of Lake Winnipeg, close to the Ontario boundary.