Innu Nation repeatedly blindsided by Muskrat Falls announcements, letters show

Weeks earlier than Ottawa and Newfoundland and Labrador unveiled their $5.2-billion settlement in precept on fee mitigation, the Innu Nation warned Liberal Premier Andrew Furey it might “not tolerate” a deal reached with out its enter.

Letters obtained by CBC/Radio-Canada show the Innu repeatedly complained they realized of main bulletins affecting Muskrat Falls — and, they feared, the royalties the Labrador First Nation would derive from the hydroelectric challenge — with little or no prior discover from the provincial authorities.

The letters, spanning 16 months, type a part of the displays to an injunction request filed by the Innu Nation in August days after Ottawa and the provincial authorities introduced their settlement in precept. 

The deal goals to keep away from a sudden spike in electrical energy payments for ratepayers attributable to price overruns at Muskrat Falls however will even scale back advantages paid to the Innu, whose ancestral lands had been flooded to construct the challenge. 

“We were very upfront and our position was known for a very long time,” Peter Penashue, a member of the Innu Nation’s fee mitigation workforce, mentioned Wednesday.

“We had some idea that there was a flaw in this process, and eventually our suspicions were confirmed.… They’re trying to reduce our benefits by a billion dollars [over 50 years] and that’s not acceptable.”

Early complaints

In a March 2020 letter, written a month after then premier Dwight Ball and federal Natural Resources Minister Seamus O’Regan introduced they might “undertake a financial restructuring” of the Muskrat Falls challenge, the Innu Nation complained it had been knowledgeable of the brand new negotiations by telephone the day of the announcement.

“We would have appreciated an earlier notice of the announcement and its contents,” wrote Gregory Rich, then grand chief of the Innu Nation, in a letter to Ball. “We need to know the big picture of what GNL [the government of Newfoundland and Labrador] is considering as rate mitigation options … in order to achieve the shared objective of holding the Innu harmless.”

In an April 2020 response, Ball promised the Innu “regular monthly meetings, or as required, to provide updates and allow for adequate discussion” on negotiations with Ottawa.

Those conferences seem to have ceased within the months after Furey changed Ball as Liberal chief and premier in August 2020. Furey declined an interview request from CBC News.

“In recent months GNL has cancelled our meetings, and we have not been kept informed about recent developments,” wrote Deputy Grand Chief Mary Ann Nui in a missive despatched final January to Furey, wherein she complained the Innu Nation had realized by the media of a choice to defer $844 million in Muskrat Falls debt repayments.

“It was particularly disappointing to learn about the Muskrat Falls restructuring announcement with Prime Minister [Justin] Trudeau on Dec. 17 only through the media,” Nui wrote.

Former Newfoundland and Labrador premier Dwight Ball retired from politics in August 2020. (Paul Daly/The Canadian Press)

Promise from Ball

In the identical letter, Nui additionally sought assurances the federal government would hold a promise she mentioned Ball had made in February 2020.

“Your predecessor, Premier Ball, recognized the importance of the relationship when he promised us … that whatever financial restructuring needed to be done with Muskrat Falls, that the Innu people would be held harmless against any negative effects on the Innu as a result of rate mitigation,” she wrote.

CBC News requested Ball to make clear this assertion however didn’t obtain a response.

In an undated reply, Furey responded he was “very surprised” to obtain Nui’s letter, given officers “were directed to contact you in advance of the announcement” on deferring debt repayments.

“My position, and that of my government, is to fully apprise you on this matter,” Furey wrote. “Please be assured that the announcement on December 17th does not have any ramifications for the IBA.”

The IBA, or impacts and advantages settlement, is the doc governing Innu royalties from Muskrat Falls.

“An official had reached out to the Innu Nation in November to communicate that with the reorganization of the rate mitigation team and process, we would re-engage with you once our discussions are at a point with the federal government when we can provide meaningful information,” Furey added.

Warning from Innu grand chief

In a July 5 letter to Furey, penned simply three weeks earlier than he and Trudeau introduced the settlement in precept on fee mitigation, Grand Chief Etienne Rich reiterated his request that “the Innu Nation be kept up to date” on the standing of negotiations with Ottawa.

After twice studying of bulletins associated to Muskrat Falls on the final minute, Rich additionally gave the premier a stark warning.

“It would be unfair if what happened was that we were simply informed about what has been arranged after it has happened. The Innu people will not tolerate that. We gave our consent to Muskrat Falls based on the terms of the IBA, and to not honour those arrangements would breach legal as well as moral obligations,” wrote Rich.

In the top, as revealed throughout hearings into the Innu Nation’s injunction request in September, the provincial authorities knowledgeable Innu leaders by telephone of the settlement in precept the day earlier than it was introduced. 

The Innu Nation would study the primary particulars of the deal in a technical briefing organized for media. It would wait weeks for extra particular modelling on the monetary advantages of the brand new deal’s affect on future advantages for the Innu.

‘An assault on reconciliation’

In an Aug. 3 letter, Rich scolded the prime minister for reducing a “backroom deal which could destroy the benefits that were the basis of our consent to this project.”

“You backroom deal with Premier Furey could mean that the Innu people will end up with no benefits from this project,” Rich wrote. “That is unacceptable. Your decision is an attack on reconciliation.”

Rich additionally demanded commitments to revise the settlement in precept, present monetary modelling on the affect of the deal on Innu Nation royalties and guarantee a seat on the negotiating desk for the Innu alongside Ottawa and Newfoundland and Labrador.

Two days later, Furey assured Rich that “my government’s commitment to you has not wavered. We are committed to being open and forthright and to providing information when we have it.”

Despite that assurance, the Innu Nation subsequently sued the federal and provincial governments, and filed a request for an injunction to quash the deal earlier than a signing ceremony initially anticipated Sept. 30.

Before Judge Alexander MacDonald might rule on the injunction request, the province, federal authorities and Innu Nation introduced discussions on the settlement in precept had resumed.

Talks ongoing

“We have a process agreement in place and the Innu leadership and myself and the provincial government leadership have agreed amongst ourselves that we wouldn’t comment on that publicly. It’s an ongoing, active discussion between the two parties,” Furey mentioned Tuesday, following a gathering of the Premier-Indigenous Leaders’ Roundtable.

Members of the Innu Nation weren’t current on the roundtable assembly. A spokesperson for the Innu Nation mentioned current deaths in the neighborhood had been in charge, not ongoing negotiations on fee mitigation. 

In a press release Wednesday, the provincial authorities mentioned it “is committed to reconciliation and continues to work closely with Indigenous governments and organizations.”

“The process agreement signed by Innu Nation, Canada and the government of Newfoundland and Labrador is in place, which provides for information to be shared with and input provided by the Innu Nation as work on the definitive agreements progresses.”

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