Thank you for that question, and thank you for allowing me to continue with the parliamentary secretary's question.
We've all tried to make it work where we can. Even though thorny issues have arisen, they haven't.... As another consequence of the two ministers making a commitment to move 150,000 acres a year, a working group was created in Manitoba that involved federal, provincial, and first nations officials. I was one of the people designated at the request of the provincial minister. Of course the grand chief instantly concurred with that request.
I created a table. I like tables. I like to be able to snapshot things and be able to track and plan them. Of all the selections categories of the issues that were held up, I made the observation to all the people sitting on this working group that we are going to figure this out. There is no other group of experts somewhere else in Manitoba who know the TLE framework as well as we do—the director of lands for the department, the senior people from the lands branch in the province, and persons like me and other first nations reps. If we were going to puzzle this out and make it work, this group at the table was going to do it. There wasn't anyone else. Once everyone agreed, yes, that's true, then we began to focus on resolving the issues.
Within the path, what's happened is some intractable issues, like the form of a hydro easement, have frozen those selections, and they're not moving forward. There's a lot of work on a standardized easement agreement, but Hydro has requested the lands under easement be administered by the Province of Manitoba and not as federal land, and that's not consistent with the original TLE framework.
These are reserve lands that have an easement protecting use of the lands but subject clearly to the authority of the minister and chief and council. Manitoba doesn't want to do that. They're concerned about Canada having influence on the operation of Manitoba Hydro's water regime.
In terms of pre-transfer uses of lands, which is the question we were talking about earlier, a piece of land would be selected because it's a cultural site. There are camps and cabins on it. The department felt there was a liability concern, and that then delayed all those until we worked those out.
What we ended up working out was that instead of having that release, the acceptance of liability by the first nations covers the entire parcel, which may be several thousands of hectares. We had the release apply to the area reasonably appurtenant to the use. There were compromises, and I was part of the team who helped work that out. Whenever we've hit a wall, we've tried to figure out a way around it.
The easement one is a bit sticky, and it needs to be resolved because there are a large number of sites on the water because that's where our communities settled. The reason our communities are on rivers is for all the right reasons—water supply, communication, transportation, fisheries, wildlife—and so to have these particular selections held up are quite a problem.
We're keenly interested in the ATR process on urban reserves, for example NCN's selection of the Mystery Lake Hotel in Thompson. Apparently there's a ministerial recommendation from region to headquarters suggesting that this proceed, but it is still moving along. There's a site on Madison Street in Winnipeg that MKO is interested in for other reasons, which would be the first urban reserve in the city, Long Plain First Nation, because we have an interest in putting a Muskehki pharmacy in that parcel. It's being converted to Yellowquill College. We have a floor plan to put a pharmacy and a clinic in the college so it would be the first, first nation-owned business on an urban reserve inside city limits in Winnipeg, but that is not proceeding very quickly.
There's a lot of economic opportunity. A lot of benefit would flow from speeding up the mechanism of dealing with urban reserves in particular that are designated for economic purposes. In NCN's case they also have another selection they want to build a large convention centre on, a facility, because the Mystery Lake Hotel doesn't have conferencing facilities and so forth, which would create a hub of activity and business that would benefit the whole Thompson region. Again, issues with easements and dealing with Hydro have held up the piece of land they want to set aside for that purpose.
On problem solving that one, I can say we went to meet with the deputy minister of Northern Affairs and presented the rationale Hydro was using for setting an easement elevation on the land that would render most of the parcel under water or under easement, and therefore not developable. The deputy said that's a no-brainer. We're never going to do that because that particular easement elevation would flood half the Thompson airport and so on.
There's a lot of goodwill, we think, that's necessary to have players encourage each other, to not, in that case, set an easement elevation for a hypothetical project that's never going to get built, just for the purpose of controlling as much of the reserve selection as possible.
Positive development and economic stimulus for the Thompson region have been held up for a decade as a result of this position that's not moving with Manitoba Hydro, even though the deputy minister of Northern Affairs has advised the first nation that we're never going to do that, as did Mr. Brennan before he retired.
We need to try to get senior policy people troubleshooting through some of these hang-ups to get these critical acres moving, so we can create some jobs and build some convention centres and make benefit for the people of the regions based on those reserve selections.
There are a lot of positive results from the TLE agreement, especially in economic use of certain key parcels that are not proceeding.
Another one is, as you would probably expect, we did a detailed analysis of both mineral resources and potential hydro sites on NCN selections, for example. We hired the former deputy minister of mines for the Province of Manitoba to help us do the workup. He had retired, but he knew the ground better than almost anyone we could hire. He advised us of the key mineralization we should be interested in.
We also reviewed all the historic sites for developable hydro power. One of the selections that NCN has made is on the next low head hydro site below Wuskwatim. They've selected both sides of the river, so the Dominion Water Power Act would apply, which would mean they would get all the water rentals, everything. The site has been bedeviled by attempts to model easements so far upriver from Thompson, from the Manasan site, that the site becomes ineligible due to an interpretation of a provision of the TLE framework.
It's one of those things where if you sit reasonable people down in a room and lay the facts out face-to-face, we should be able to come up with some solutions to move these very valuable economic sites forward. Then we'd end up with, at that particular site which is known as Kepuche Falls, a hydro station built by a first nation using its own financial wherewithal. Wow.