WINNIPEG — The Interfaith Task Force on Northern Hydro Development has set out to promote thoughtful, mature debate about issues that will have a major effect on Manitoba's future.
"With Manitoba Hydro wanting to spend over $17 billion on new projects in the next 15 years, robust public debate is important," says the Rev. Hugo Unruh, co-chair of the taskforce.
So the taskforce has set up a website — http://energyjustice.mcc.org — that it hopes will help to avoid polarization over the issues of northern development.
"Battle lines are drawn, arguments are lined up, and charged rhetoric replaces what is really needed: reasoned inquiry into the pros, cons and nuances of an issue," says the website.
The group's views are stated clearly on the site - concern about the ongoing social and environmental damage caused by dams and the categorical labelling of hydro as "clean."
Visitors are also pointed to websites of Manitoba Hydro and First Nations partnering with Hydro. In the past, two of these First Nations have publicly opposed the churches' questioning the utility's northern operations.
The site — a collaboration between the largely volunteer task force and the Mennonite Central Committee (MCC) — aims to inform southern consumers about what is happening at the "other end of the transmission line."
It includes fact sheets, interviews and photo galleries about the massive hydroelectric complex that dominates the main waterways of northern Manitoba.
"Healthy public debate," says Unruh, "means avoiding a simplistic slant that considers only the pros or only the cons of an issue.
"We want to create a forum that encourages people to think carefully and deeply about various views, including spiritual perspectives."
The site's Faith Page explores the "spiritual dimension" of hydropower, again seeking to avoid a predictable and polarized approach. "What does faith have to offer," the site asks, "other than just backing for arguments about who is right and wrong?"
"We aim to explore the role of confession, lamentation, forgiveness, consolation and grace as we consider the spiritual implications of hydro at both ends of the transmission lines," the faith section reads.
The Interfaith Task Force on Northern Hydro Development consists of representatives of the Evangelical Lutheran, Roman Catholic and United churches, as well as MCC Manitoba. Members of the Anglican Church also participate. The task force is a mix of aboriginal and non-aboriginal people.
Church involvement in hydroelectric issues in Manitoba dates back to 1973 when southern Church leaders heeded concerns of northern parishioners regarding pending development.
Two years later, an interchurch coalition convened a public inquiry so northern voices could be heard.
In 1999, a successor to that coalition held another public inquiry to see if hydro-affected peoples had been treated fairly. The current Interfaith Task Force carries on that work.