Tuesday, June 09, 2009

Hiding behind a law that isn't yet a law?

Imagine if you could hide behind a law that isn't yet a law? That's what Manitoba Hydro appears to be doing.

In January 2009, the Canadian Taxpayers Federation (CTF) released documents which showed Manitoba Hydro had spent almost $40 million on "process" and "negotiation" costs for the Keeyask Dam project alone. The CTF obtained the documents through filing freedom of information requests with Manitoba Hydro.

Although these costs could indeed be justifiable, no one knows for sure as Manitoba Hydro and the local band aren't releasing details of the expenses. Rumours that millions of dollars have been misused will certainly persist until all the facts are released to the public.

The CTF has since filed even more freedom of information requests with Manitoba Hydro.

Oddly enough, Manitoba Hydro cited in an April 17, 2009 response to one of the subsequent information requests that:

"discussion of such matters would be detrimental to the relations between Manitoba Hydro and the government of the First Nation. Matters such as these are contemplated under subsection 18(1)(b) and subsection 21(1)(b), respectively."

"Contemplated"? In other words, it appears Hydro is trying to hide behind a clause in Bill 31 (tabled last year) that essentially allows a public body in Manitoba to refuse granting access to information under the excuse that it could hurt relations with an aboriginal government.

The only problem is, Bill 31, which was tabled and passed last year, still hasn't been proclaimed - see SM 2008, c. 40. Therefore, it isn't law.

Clearly it looks as if Manitoba Hydro is trying to hide behind a law that isn't actually yet a law. Instead of trying to hide facts from the public, why doesn't Hydro just do the right thing and release the details of these expenses instead of playing "Hydro-and-go-seek"?

Stay tuned, the CTF will be filing a complaint with the Manitoba Ombudsman's office on this matter.

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