The Innu Nation is accusing the prime minister and Newfoundland and Labrador’s premier of betrayal over last week’s rate-mitigation agreement.
Last Wednesday the federal and provincial governments reached a $5.2-billion deal which will prevent electricity bills on the island from spiking when the Muskrat Falls hydroelectric project is commissioned this fall.
The deal involves a combination of new money and refinancing arrangements, with promises to reduce the province’s cost of financing its debt on the over-budget project.
Innu Nation was immediate to point out its disappointment with the agreement shortly after the announcement was made, saying it wasn’t consulted when hashing out the details, and fears its benefits from the project will be lost.
On Tuesday Innu Nation was vocal about its disappointment once again, saying Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Premier Andrew Furey “betrayed the Innu people.”
“We need to be informed, and we need to be sitting at the table when they have the discussions about rate mitigation,” Etienne Rich, grand chief of Innu Nation, told CBC News.
“Justin Trudeau and Premier Furey need to put that in their heads, that that project is there now because we had the consent to that project. If there’s no Innu consent in that project there would be no Muskrat Falls.”
Innu Nation said when it voted on whether to sign its Impacts and Benefits Agreement (IBA) in 2011 it made the “difficult decision” to consent to the Muskrat Falls project for compensation for impacts on its Aboriginal rights.
Rich said it appears Innu Nation won’t see any benefits from the project after Wednesday’s deal was reached.
“Trudeau threw Newfoundland a life-preserver but is letting the Innu sink. Canada and the province are shifting the costs overruns of the project onto Innu Nation because they think they can get away with it,” he said.
“Canada made a deliberate choice to help the province at the Innu’s expense. The Innu people will not stand for this.”
Innu Nation agreed to the sanctioning of the Muskrat Falls project in the 2008 Tshash Petapen (New Dawn) Agreement and the 2011 IBA. Under the IBA, according to Innu Nation, it’s entitled to either 5 per cent of the cash flow from the project after payment of debt once power is being sold commercially, or to a minimum payment, whichever is greater.
Now, according to Innu Nation, the terms of the agreement in principal between Canada and N.L. indicate the project could be operated on a “breakeven basis going forward.”
Innu Nation said it repeatedly requested information about how the rate mitigation deal could affect its IBA, but added it was shut out.
In a letter to Furey on Tuesday, Rich said Innu Nation received the call the night before the announcement was made saying a deal was reached. Rich said Innu Nation was only able to secure a copy of the agreement two days later “after having to beg for it.”
Owing instead of receiving
Innu Nation said a preliminary review of the agreement shows “there may no longer be any profit from the project and therefore no benefit to Innu Nation.”
The group said if there are no profits in 30 years, instead of any benefits, Innu Nation could be stuck with $300 million of debt owing to the province. Innu Nation said it understands the need for rate mitigation to help everyone in the province, but added “there is no justification for making the Innu bear the costs of cost overruns that they had no control over.” .
“I think that it’s very disrespectful not to be part of the discussions between Canada and Newfoundland. I think it’s very important that Innu Nation is supposed to be sitting at the table,” said Rich.
In a letter to Furey on Tuesday, Rich told the premier he did not have to keep Innu Nation out of discussions with non-disclosure agreements. Rich said Innu Nation is fully capable of signing and abiding by NDAs.
“The lack of consultation with Innu Nation in the development of this AIP, who the province cheerfully likes to refer to as a partner in the project when it is politically expedient, is appalling. The anger amongst our Innu people at your government’s actions is mounting, premier,” Rich wrote.
Further, Rich said Innu Nation will not participate in weekly Indigenous roundtable talks with Furey until the province has taken concrete steps to remedy “dishonourable conduct toward the Innu in relation to this rate mitigation AIP.”
He said those talks are about “small gestures the province is considering taking in your window-dressing efforts towards reconciliation.”
Innu Nation is calling on Furey and Trudeau to reconsider the Muskrat Falls agreement and do three things:
- Provide immediate access, by Aug. 6, to the detailed financial modelling for the Muskrat Falls project, which is necessary for the Innu Nation to begin assessing the impacts of the agreement on its IBA.
- Commit to revising the agreement, to ensure that the final rate mitigation agreements maintain the benefits in the IBA when it was negotiated on the basis that the Innu would receive a reasonable rate of return as one would expect in a regulated environment, as had been promised to the Innu.
- Provide Innu Nation a seat at the negotiating table to ensure that Canada and the province keep their commitments.
In Rich’s letter he said Furey has been asking for a meeting with him since the news of this Muskrat Falls agreement was released. He said he will not be meeting with Furey until Furey agrees to Innu Nation’s requests in writing.
Rich said he’s hoping to have a response by the end of the week.
During Wednesday’s announcement, when asked about Innu Nation’s immediate frustration, Furey said, “I’m sure they will be more happy as more details become available to them.”
CBC News has requested comment from Furey, but was instead given a statement from Indigenous Affairs Minister Lisa Dempster.
Dempster said the province is committed to reconciliation and highly values its relationship with the Innu and all Indigenous groups.
“We have made great strides together over the last year,” she said.
Further, Dempster said the commitments contained within the IBA with the Innu Nation will be honoured, adding it was not changed as a result of Wednesday’s agreement in principle. She said the provincial government has communicated that with the Innu Nation and “remains open and available to discussions with the Innu Nation.”