The Government of Manitoba robs its rural citizens of their local autonomy to serve its political friends and big business. (Opinion)

        by Larry Powell 
The Premier of Manitoba, Brian Pallister. A Gov't. photo.

The lengths to which the Pallister government is going to enable the unfettered exploitation of Manitoba's resources and massive expansion of its hog industry, should now be clear for all to see. For the past few years, it’s been rolling out, at significant taxpayer expense, the truly draconian measures it’s now taking, to make this happen. 

While the writing has been on the wall, only now are the worst fears being realized. They expose this government’ naked contempt for the democratic rights of rural Manitobans who have the audacity to point out that these goals are misguided - that the emperor has no clothes.

Late last year, the Municipality of Rosser, near Winnipeg, rejected a bid for a gravel mine (euphemistically called a limestone aggregate quarry). The politically well-connected owner of the construction company proposing the mine (who made a substantial contribution to the Conservative Party of Manitoba last year), appealed. Then, along comes a newly-minted creation of the Pallister Conservatives, a "blue-ribbon panel," as it were, called the Municipal Board, and overturns the council’s decision. Anointed with quasi-judicial power and peopled with several of the "party faithful," it can, in the words of one savvy observer, "relieve local councils of their administrative burdens." And, it did. It overturned council's rejection and, surprise, surprise, ruled for the proponent!

So the mine, er, quarry, will now go ahead. There is no appeal. 

So I guess the good people of the little, nearby community of Lillyfield, will just have to grin and bear it.
A gravel mine near the southwestern Manitoba community of Shoal Lake. 
A PinP photo.

Believe me, I know a thing or two about gravel-mines. A big one near my home, in the picturesque Birdtail Valley (above), supplied raw product for a major roadbuilding project to the south of here last year. 
Twenty-two wheelers take a break in Shoal Lake.
A PinP photo.

Convoys of big dump-trucks rumbled past my front window in a seniors' complex for months (above), from morning ’til night, carrying their loads - hundreds of round trips a day to the site. 

Never mind that diesel fumes are a major air pollutant which cause lung cancer; Or that the United Nations has long warned the construction industry to curb its greenhouse gas emissions "yesterday" if we are to make any dent in the climate crisis. 

Would the cancellation of that single project have turned this global calamity around? Of course not. 

But will a broader, worse-case climate scenario be in the cards if every community on Earth barges ahead as this government obviously wants us to? Absolutely!

The absence of "eco-wisdom" these events reveal on the part of our lawmakers, is breathtaking.

And Bill 19, the same legislation which tramples local autonomy (or, in the fertile mind of government, reduces red tape), has resulted in another outrage in another part of the province. 
The HyLife killing plant in Neepawa, the largest pork processor in Canada. A corporate monolith based in Thailand with tentacles reaching into many corners of the world's food business, now owns controlling interest. A PinP photo.

The local, duly-elected Council in the RM of Grassland, near Brandon, has also voted decisively to reject another proposed project - this time a massive complex of hog barns proposed by HyLife Foods (above) near the Village of Elgin. 

And surely, only the naive now believe the Municipal Board will rule any way other than it did in Rosser.

The Grassland Council simply doesn’t believe the tax revenue from the project will cover the cost of servicing it. And residents fear the increased traffic will bring dust and noise, disrupting their quiet, rural lifestyles. 

They also worry about their water supply. That’s because the new complex will suck more than 100 thousand litres of water each and every day from the local aquifer. Twenty-four thousand pigs will be crowded into several large buildings. 

That’s about thirty times the human population of my own little town of Shoal Lake. And each pig produces several times the waste of one person. Yet even here we struggle to keep nutrients from our sewage lagoon - which often exceed recommended levels - from entering the lake. 
Fish kill - Shoal Lake - 2019. A PinP photo.

These likely help feed the growth of toxic algae which have been clogging up the lake water for years, tangling outboard motors and surely contributing to major fish-kills like the one we had here last year (above). 

It's been common knowledge for some time that, wherever humans or pigs are gathered together, deteriorating water quality soon follows. So, if our small town can feel such an impact, imagine the potential for harm there!

And, as a new report from the World Wildlife Fund reveals: "The overall (pollution) threat in the Assiniboine-Red watershed and each of its four sub-watersheds (where the new barns will be built) is (already) “very high.” It blames much of this on "agricultural runoff!"

Dissenting voices are systematically ignored.

In the spring of 2018 - the citizens' group, Hogwatch Manitoba - 
emblazened this headline across its website.


Here is Hogwatch's prophetic, cautionary tale, word for word, as it appeared, two-&-a-half years ago.

"Bill 19 will silence the public. It will allow municipal leaders to get rid of conditional use hearings and Provincial Technical Reviews for factory hog barns. If local politicians take this route, the Province will have the only and final say on where hog factories can be built. The Government of Manitoba is and has been both a promoter and regulator of the hog industry.  Bill 19 is the latest move to promote and de-regulate hog industry expansion. Why is Provincial control a problem? If conditional use disappears, local councils and rural people will not have any say in how factory hog operations perform. Municipalities will have no means of monitoring, enforcing conditions, and protecting local people and the environment from hog operations." 

John Fefchak of Virden is another example of a voice that needs to be listened to, but is not. John is a veteran of the Canadian military and long-time critic of his province's factory-farming style of pork production. He sees the government’s almost messianic drive to be both a regulator of, and cheerleader for the industry, as an attack on the democratic freedoms he did his part to win in the deadly conflicts of the past. Yet, his frequent comments to the news media, including the farm press, are often censored. 

And my local Shoal Lake newspaper, the Crossroads, is refusing to print this story which I put in the form of a letter-to-the-editor. The publisher, Ryan Nesbitt, claims it is "not local enough." He has also refused other letters I have submitted, about climate change, for the same reason.

It's encouraging that the Opposition is now taking up this issue. But I do hope it won't roll out as just another bit of political theatre. We need a profound public discourse on the very ways we develop our resources, produce our food, and exercise and protect our precious democratic rights, too. Is it all working? Or does it need to change? We all need to think about these things when the next election comes around.


Unknown said…
Well said. The other significant problem with Bill 19 is the absence of any appeal for members of the public or a municipality. The Planning Act specifically prohibits any appeals of Municipal Board decisions to the Court. This makes it clear that the intent of the Pallister government is to fetter local government control and discretion when it comes to making decisions on developments.
There is more to come. A plethora of bills have been introduced into the manitoba legislature. There are more changes to the Planning Act proposed which are designed to futher erode local government authority over planning decisions.
The pallister govwernment's idea that all development is good development is countered by the reality of ecosystem destruction and the denigration of the quality of life of rural people who are forced to live in proximity to aggregate quarries and intensive livestock and hog factories.
And we mustn't forget that the impetus for the Bill 19 changes to the Planning Act were precisely because a hog operation had been turned down in the RM of Oakview months before the Bill was introduced. The evidence for this should be in the Hansard as Ruth Pryzner submitted an internal government document citing events in Oakview as something that needed to be addressed (public opposition to the hog industry).
Unfortunately too, because the public at the Oakview hearing were able to demonstrate the flaws identified by the Province's Technical Review Commitee could not be mitigated and the proposed site for the earthen manure storage was illegal (in violation of the Livestock Manure and Mortalities Management Regulation), two important things happened.
First, the Technical Review Committee reports became sterile, devoid of any identifiable problems which the public could pick up on and talk about at hearings. You can bet that now, as with the Lilyfield quarry situation, the Municipal Board will take the same approach and blindly accept Technical Review Committee Reports as "expert" and subject to no criticism or scrutiny.
Second, the LMMMR was changed to redefine surface watercourse and adding the definition of "ephemeral stream" to now make the illegal site in Oakview, legal.
A significant proposed change to the Planning Act will now require municipalities to give reasons for why they reject a development proposal which then makes it even more easy for developers to succeed at the Municipal Board level.
It's clear that the Pallister government has nothing but distain for principles of natural justice and the public's ability to defend itself against bad developments.

Harold Dyck said…
And yet, that is a region in our province that votes so overwhelmingly Tory, election after election, that Pallister knows he can ram whatever he wants up there arses and still count on that guaranteed base of support. It is the same phenomenon that causes millions of poor Americans to ignore their own and their community's self interest and vote for Trump.
PinP said…
The RM of Grassland has now REVERSED itself and has APPROVED this project. Community opposition remains. Stay tuned.
John Fefchak, Virden said…
Back in year of 2000, the following statement was included in a public discussion paper on Livestock Stewardship. It was signed by three cabinet ministers who had this to say. quote “The Manitoba government has a responsibility to guide this development and ensure industry growth does not occur at the expense of the environment or our quality of life. To develop a plan for growth that is both viable and sustainable, we must consider the issues from all perspectives – economics, environmental and social. It is a trust and challenge we take very seriously.” unquote. Back then, we know what the Manitoba government was thinking. However, that did not happen. In fact, in several instances, all perpetrated by the five “P”s – Politics, Pigs, Profit, Poop and Pollution – the very opposite has been taking place.
The social quality of living in rural Manitoba, plus the care of our water and environment is being ignored.

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