B.C. Greens among groups that slam NDP for continuing construction of the Liberals' Site C dam
B.C. premier John Horgan announced that construction of the Site C dam will continue with a pre-recorded statement that was anything but enthusiastic.
Stakeholders and interest groups have unleashed a flurry of passionate reactions to news that B.C.’s new NDP government will continue with the former Liberal administration’s Site C hydroelectric dam.
B.C. Green party leader Andrew Weaver issued a statement slamming Premier John Horgan for the decision.
"Today, Site C is no longer simply a B.C. Liberal boondoggle,” Weaver said quoted in a media release. “It has now become the B.C. NDP’s project.”
The NDP governs B.C. with a minority of seats in the legislature. It relies on the support of Weaver plus two other Green MLAs to fend off a no-confidence vote that could force the NDP from power.
Weaver’s statement does not suggest that the NDP’s decision to continue constructing the dam has jeopardized that arrangement, but it is otherwise a sharp critique.
“Our caucus is extremely disheartened by this decision,” Weaver said. “It is fiscally reckless to continue with Site C and my colleagues and I did everything we could to make this clear to government.”
Members of the B.C. Liberal party predictably reacted to the decision with praise.
Dianne Watts, a former Surrey MP who’s running for leadership of the B.C. Liberals, argued the dam will serve as a source of power that’s environmentally sustainable.
“BC secured 100 yrs of clean energy today and security for 2200 Site C employees,” she wrote on Twitter. “Let's build a future where BC utilizes multiple energy sources using a sci-based, data-driven approach for our energy needs.”
Business groups similarly welcomed the news.
The B.C. Chamber of Commerce (BCCC) said that Site C will produce power that B.C. needs.
“In the long-run, Site C’s affordable energy is a huge competitive advantage for business in the province, said Val Litwin, president and CEO of the BCCC. “BC’s hydroelectric system gives businesses and residents certainty that reliable and clean power will be available when it is needed.”
The Independent Contractors and Businesses Association (ICBA) issued a supportive but critical assessment of the decision.
“With so much at stake for our province, better late than never for John Horgan and the NDP government to support Site C,” said ICBA president Chris Gardner quoted in a release. “This entire process and all of the uncertainty it caused was completely unnecessary. In the past four months, we have seen a rushed review and needless NDP-Green politicking create uncertainty and confusion that put this clean energy project, and the thousands of jobs it supports, at risk for no reason.”
The Site C dam is under construction on the Peace River in central B.C., roughly south of Fort St. John.
Environmental groups were mostly against Horgan’s decision to continue work on the dam.
“This dam is an assault on the human rights of the Indigenous people of the Peace River Valley, said Joe Foy, a national campaign director for the Vancouver-based Wilderness Committee. “The province is so worried about the two billion dollars sunk into it already, but that is nothing to pay for reconciliation. You can’t say you are committed to United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People and then approve the Site C dam.”
The Pembina Institute issued a less-critical response.
“In the wake of the Site C dam decision, it’s important not to lose sight of one thing: Our province’s efforts to tackle human-caused climate change are indelibly linked to today’s energy choices,” reads a statement attributed to the organization’s acting regional director for B.C., Karen Tam Wu. “British Columbians expect Premier John Horgan’s government to deliver on its promise of a new climate plan that gets us back on track to our targets for fighting carbon pollution.”
Pembina’s release notes that Tam Wu was a member of the Site C expert advisory panel that provided input on the dam to the government.
“In B.C., we still rely heavily on fossil fuels to heat and power our homes, buildings, vehicles, and industry,” she continued in the release. “Indeed, fossil fuels currently supply four times more energy than hydro in the province. Therefore, B.C. must plan for a smooth transition from fossil fuels to renewable energy. More clean electricity is essential for decarbonizing our economy. However, renewable energy development doesn’t equal climate action without a plan to cut down on carbon pollution.”
The human-rights-focused organization Amnesty International weighed in with a statement that unequivocally condemned the decision. It issued a media release describing it as “appalling and indefensible”.
“We are truly shocked at the callous disregard for the rights and well-being of Indigenous peoples, despite the Premier’s acknowledgement of what is at stake," said Alex Neve, secretary general of Amnesty International Canada.
“The Premier knew coming into office that flooding the Peace River Valley would be profoundly destructive for the Dunne-Za and Cree peoples whose histories and cultures are inseparable from that land,” Neve continued. “He has even acknowledged that construction of the Site C dam would violate Canada’s legal obligations under Treaty 8. The fact that he would allow the destruction of the Peace River Valley despite such serious concerns is a blatant betrayal of his government’s commitments to uphold the rights of Indigenous peoples, including the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.”
— John Horgan (@jjhorgan) December 11, 2017
The location of the Site C dam, on the Peace River roughly south of Fort St. John, has already entered an initial phase of construction. About $2 billion has been spent so far.
B.C. Hydro estimates the total cost of the megaproject at $8.8 billion including a contingency fund, but a recent B.C. Utilities Commission review found that it could surpass $10 billion.
In recent weeks, both opposition to and support for the Site C dam reached a fevered pitch.
One of the most contested questions surrounding the project is whether or not the province actually required the amounts of electricity that such a large dam will produce.
B.C. Hydro has repeatedly issued calculations for future demands for energy in B.C. that later turned out to over-estimate what was actually used.
At a press conference today (December 11), Horgan did not express enthusiasm for Site C, but said the responsible decision was to continue with the dam even though it “should never have been started”.
"Megaproject mismanagement by the old government has left B.C. in a terrible situation," he said quoted in a media release. "But we cannot punish British Columbians for those mistakes, and we can't change the past. We can only make the best decision for the future.
"It's clear that Site C should never have been started," he continued. "But to cancel it would add billions to the Province's debt—putting at risk our ability to deliver housing, child care, schools and hospitals for families across B.C. And that's a price we're not willing to pay."
Travis Lupick is a journalist based in Vancouver. His first book, Fighting for Space: How a Group of Drug Users Transformed One City's Struggle with Addiction, will be published in November 2017. You can follow him on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.