PC Interference in Hydro Leaves 1,500 Manitobans Displaced for Months

NDP MLA for Keewatinook Ian Bushie, who represents Little Grand Rapids First Nation and Pauingassi First Nation, stood with NDP Hydro Critic Adrien Sala and IBEW 2034 to condemn the PC Government’s disregard for the crisis in these communities.

“Families in these communities should be preparing for a new school year, but instead they are stuck in cramped hotel rooms during a pandemic after being forced to evacuate their homes on a moment’s notice,” said Bushie. “These are kids, elders, and exhausted parents who just want to go home but are stranded in Winnipeg because the PC government has failed to make them a priority. There are no excuses – the PCs need to treat this like the critical situation it is and get these families home.”

Forest fires in Eastern Manitoba damaged 105 poles that provide electrical service to the First Nations communities of Little Grand Rapids and Pauingassi. Manitoba Hydro estimates that this damage has impacted more than 1,500 residents, most of whom were evacuated in July. In a News Release dated August 23rd , Manitoba Hydro says restoration work will take 6 – 8 weeks and will begin on August 23rd . By contrast in the 2019 ice storm, when Hydro reported that 4,000 poles were damaged and 593, 490 Manitobans were without power, service was restored within 15 days.

Hydro has contracted out the majority of the service restoration to Valard, which is owned by the American company Quanta. According to IBEW, the first power line was damaged on July 21st but IBEW was not made aware of Hydro’s decision to contract out the work until August 16th – twenty-six days after the outage began. Based on their own internal reporting, IBEW claims Manitoba Hydro did not hire a single new powerline technician from 2018 – 2020, despite its customer base growing by approximately 6,000 customers per year.

“Regular families shouldn’t have to pay for the PCs interference in Hydro,” said NDP Critic for Manitoba Hydro, Adrien Sala. “But under the PC Government, Hydro has been subject to job cuts and hiring freezes that have intentionally weakened our most valuable Crown Corporation. Manitoba Hydro belongs to all Manitobans and it should be able to immediately respond to the needs of communities.”

“It’s shameful how long these families are waiting to return home,” said IBEW 2034 Business Manager, Mike Espenell. “Our workers want to get the lights back on as soon as we can but it’s clear this isn’t a priority for the province. If we dedicated adequate resources to this restoration, it could be done in two weeks.”