UCCMM membership kept in the dark on wind farm deal, writer says
Credit: The Manitoulin Expositor | 16 May 2012 | www.manitoulin.ca ~~
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On February 21 and 23, 2012 respectively, I had sent the UCCMM Chief Administrative Officer (CAO), Hazel Recollet, and the UCCMM Board Chair, Mnidoo Mnising Power Corporation (MMPC) President and Whitefish River First Nation Chief Franklin Paibomsai, an email questioning them on the creation of the Mnidoo Mnising Power Corporation (MMP) and their 50/50 partnership agreement with Northland Power Incorporated (NPI). As some may know, both groups are partners in a project that plans to sell wind power energy to the Ontario Power Authority (OPA) through what is called a 20-year Feed-In Tariff (FIT) program. The issue is whether or not the UCCMM membership was adequately consulted on such a partnership. In light of this partnership agreement, I had posed the following questions to the UCCMM leadership.
To the UCCMM CAO, the questions were as follows: Does the UCCMM have a strategy in regards to the concept of re-dress? Where can UCCMM grassroots go when they have concerns/grievances against their leadership within their own respective First Nation communities? Is there a group/committee working on a re-dress strategy? What happens when grassroots have concerns with UCCMM? Where can grassroots go to effectively deal with any UCCMM issues? When can the UCCMM grassroots expect a UCCMM Annual General Meeting (AGM)? To date, I have received no response from the UCCMM CAO Hazel Recollet.
On February 23, 2012, I had sent other questions to Franklin Paibomsai, UCCM tribal chair, President of the Mnidoo Mnising Power Corporation (MMP), and Whitefish River First Nation chief. My questions were as follows: According to Julian Nowgabo’s letter to the editor in the February 15, 2012 edition of The Manitoulin Expositor (‘Stars ‘miraculously align’ for Birch Island chief, page 5), Mr. Nowgabo points out the fact that the tenure of the Whitefish River First Nation chief and Council ended on January 7, 2011 and that elections would resume on February 12, 2011. In between this time period, Mr. Paibomsai was apparently no longer a public official/chief. Yet on February 10, 2011, two days before the Whitefish River First Nation election, Mnidoo Mnising Power Corporation (MMP) and Northland Power (NPI) announced a 50/50 partnership agreement. The question is, among others: Can a non-chief sign official legal documents on behalf of UCCM or MMP? I had further questioned Mr. Paibomsai on the following: When a UCCM chief is not re-elected in their respective First Nation community, does that former chief remain on as a Director for the Mnidoo Mnising Power Corporation (MMP)?
I further queried Mr. Paibomsai on the matter of consultation. According to the Northland Power, McLeans Mountain Wind Farm Consultation Report, Mr. Paibomsai, as UCCMM tribal chair, indicated some reservations about entering into such an Agreement as recorded at a Public Information Center (PIC) meeting on March 22, 2010. The following is a quote from Mr. Paibomsai at that meeting: “A legal requirement of the Ontario government, as proclaimed by the Supreme Court of Canada, consultation has been ignored and continues to be ignored” and that “as long as the government of Ontario continues to ignore the First Nations, the chiefs will remain opposed to the project”. I would like to point out that the very thing that Mr. Paibomsai accuses the Province of Ontario of committing is the very same thing, or so it appears, that is being done to UCCMM grassroots people, albeit by the UCCMM itself. This is an irony that must be resolved at the UCCMM Board level. However, if UCCMM was initially opposed the project, what caused UCCMM to change its position with respect to the wind farm project? Was the grassroots consulted as to whether or not they wanted our leaders to enter into such an agreement between MMP and NPI? Was the UCCM grassroots informed as to the human and environmental impacts of the wind farm project. Again, to date, I did not get a response from Mr. Paibomsai.
Ironically, I did receive a partial but indirect response in the form of the UCCMM Newsletter – Winter Issue 2012 – where the Mnidoo Mnising Power Corporation (MMP) was mentioned along with costs and those involved in terms of the agreement. I must assume that UCCMM, to some degree, was forced to print such information in their newsletter as a result of the flurry of questions and media articles directed towards the leadership of UCCM. However, I would like to say that this ‘after-the-fact’ rendition of the MMP/NPI deal comes too little, too late as such information should have been dealt with and communicated to the grassroots long before the 50/50 partnership announcement on February 10, 2011. Perhaps then, UCCMM could have avoided being questioned to the extent they are today. Further, in terms of the UCCMM newsletter, and as a grassroots UCCMM community member, I did not know the MMP/NPI deal was in excess of $170 million in terms of project costs. Also, according to the UCCMM newsletter, I did not know that each participating UCCMM First Nation would receive $10 million over the life of the project. I question whether or not off-reserve members would benefit as well! I also question how much NPI will profit over the life of the project. In spite of the information contained in the UCCMM newsletter, and in spite of my query to UCCMM, a vast majority of my questions to the UCCMM have gone unanswered.
As of today, and according to the moccasin telegraph, UCCMM appears to be in disarray, perhaps as a result of the flurry of questions sent to them by UCCMM members, including the media coverage regarding the 50/50 partnership between NPI and MMP. If UCCMM is not in disarray, and this is not the case, then I invite the UCCMM leadership to enlighten the UCCMM grassroots membership otherwise.
As a result of the disarray, it is alleged that Mr. Frankilin Paibomsai has since resigned from his post as the UCCMM tribal chair, perhaps because of the public and media pressure mentioned above. Instead of deciding to do the right thing and publicly addressing the issues, the only decision he makes is one where he decides to resign––a seemingly easy way out of all the questions and media attention. This does not make the problem go away. If anything, it may only exacerbate the problem. Certainly such a move can be viewed as a reflection of his leadership style. I would like to say that regardless of his alleged resignation, Mr. Paibomsai continues to be responsible and accountable for the issues that had occurred under his tenure as UCCM tribal chair and president of the Mnidoo Mnising Power Corporation (MMP). One question remains, did Mr. Paibomsai also resign as president of the Mnidoo Mnising Power Corporation (MMP)? Keeping the UCCM grassroots in the dark about such issues will only create more questions and dissention. I urge the UCCMM leadership to do the right thing!
Still, further questions remain; Are there any UCCMM First Nations who are opposed to the wind farm project, and how does this affect the overall agreement between MMP and NPI? How does Mr. Paibomsai’s signing of the agreement as a citizen and not as a chief affect the overall Agreement? If Mr. Paibomsai was unauthorized to sign the MMP/NPI Agreement, did the UCCMM CAO, Hazel Recollet, and other UCCMM Board of Directors have a responsibility to advise and/or caution the tribal chair, Franklin Paibomsai, against signing? These are just a few questions that have also gone unanswered. Other questions come to mind: to what degree do these issues impact the UCCMM leadership overall? Is the UCCMM grassroots being deliberately kept in the dark about the 50/50 partnership? Do UCCMM chiefs have a responsibility to effectively deal with these matters?
I had mentioned, in an earlier Expositor submission, that Mr. Paibomsai has a great responsibility here as tribal chair in addition to his position as president of Mnidoo Mnising Power Corporation. It is time for that responsibility to be fulfilled. The fact that community members are questioning the UCCMM leadership is, indeed, a reflection on the need for transparency, accountability, good government, and re-dress among UCCMM communities.
Finally, I would like to remind the UCCMM, as they may seem to have forgotten, that they are ultimately accountable to the people whom they serve—the UCCMM grassroots.
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