06/20/2012 10:07 EDT | Updated 08/20/2012 05:12 EDT

Manitoba woman says she was paid $700 to attend meeting about hydro development

WINNIPEG - A member of a northern Manitoba First Nation tells the Winnipeg Free Press she was paid $700 to attend a two-hour meeting in 2010 over hydro development in her community.

Solange Garson, who lived in Winnipeg at the time, says the meeting occurred at the Winnipeg offices of a consulting firm employed by Tataskweyak Cree Nation.

Garson says until she started blowing the whistle, it was also common for video-game consoles, flat-screen TVs and freezers to be offered as door prizes to lure band members to meetings.

Manitoba Hydro has been negotiating with TCN and several other northern First Nations for years over the development of the Wuskwatim, Keeyask and Conawapa hydroelectric-generating stations.

Hydro spokesman Glenn Schneider says the corporation would reject any invoice covering inducements to attend meetings, saying: "It's not an expense that qualifies for reimbursement.”

He says questions on gifts given to meeting-goers should be directed to Tataskweyak Cree Nation.

Robert Garson, a band councillor with the TCN, declined to comment on the matter.

Colin Craig, Prairie director of the Canadian Taxpayers' Federation, was critical of door prizes and money being offered to attract band members to meetings.

“The public shouldn’t be paid for attending meetings on dams or to approve a new bike path or whatever the case,” he said.

Craig said it is irrelevant whether the inducements are funded by Hydro or the First Nation, which is funded by federal taxpayers.

“It’s like asking whether it’s coming from the taxpayer’s right pocket or left pocket,” he said.

Solange Garson said paying people to show up for such meetings as part of the public consultation process is "wasteful."

She said she'd rather see the money spent on community improvements.

(Winnipeg Free Press)

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