NDP choose to move ahead with Site C

Derek Kilbourn

Sounder News

Tuesday, December 19 2017

The British Columbia government announced this past week that it would complete construction of the Site C hydroelectric dam, saying that to do otherwise would put British Columbians on the hook for an immediate and unavoidable $4 billion bill - with nothing in return - resulting in rate hikes or reduced funds for schools, hospitals and important infrastructure.

“Megaproject mismanagement by the old government has left BC in a terrible situation,” said Premier John Horgan in making the announcement. “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. But to cancel it would add billions to the Province’s debt, putting at risk our ability to deliver housing, childcare, schools and hospitals for families across BC. And that’s a price we’re not willing to pay.”

In a press release sent out on Monday, December 11, the NDP Government claimed that had it decided to cancel Site C, it would have taken on the project’s $3.9 billion in debt, made up of $2.1 billion already spent and another $1.8 billion in remediation costs. According to the NDP, that, as public debt, would become the responsibility of BC Hydro customers or taxpayers.

Horgan said, “We will not ask British Columbians to take on $4 billion in debt with nothing in return for the people of this province and, even worse, with massive cuts to the services they count on.

“The old government recklessly pushed Site C past the point of no return, committing billions of dollars to this project without appropriate planning and oversight. Our job now is to make the best of a bad deal and do everything possible to turn Site C into a positive contributor to our energy future.”

Doug Routley, NDP MLA for Nanaimo-North Cowichan, said “it was the only decision that could be taken in the end. “The fact is, the dam was recklessly promised and was taken past the point of no return by the previous government. The Liberals did just that.”

Routley supported the Premier’s statement in that had the project been cancelled, it would have meant billions of dollars being put immediately onto the provincial debt.

“It would take up all of the capital borrowing room for the province going forward. That means no new housing, no hospitals, no schools, no childcare.”

Routley said the promise during the election was to put the Site C project before the BC Utilities Commission (BCUC).

“The review came back, confirming the costs of cancellation. We had 16 years of BC Liberal rule. The people who paid for that have been the most vulnerable...people have gone 16 years without investment into social services, we’re all feeling it. We cannot ask those same people to be deprived of reasonable support, and do that damage, simply because people would be mad at us. We cannot. The easiest thing politically would be for us to cancel [Site C], but that would be the wrong thing to do.”

Routley and Horgan laid the blame for the decision squarely on the BC Liberals, in particular former Premier Christy Clark.

Routley said, “We would not have started this project. It was started in a rush. [Clark] took it beyond the point of no return recklessly.”

Routley said he was one of the hardest members of the NDP caucus to convince that Site C should move forward.

“People can say we could have done this and that. We’ve had experts look at this on every aspect - we have to know that we aren’t going to impose terrific damage on the lives of British Columbians.”He said there are “inescapable consequences” which the NDP Government can’t wish away. “[The Liberals] spent $2.5 billion with no oversight. They made a commitment to $10 billion. They’ve created a situation that to reverse...would be a poison pill to the BC economy and all we hope to do to help people.”

He added that his ideological beliefs and values rest with saving agricultural land and First Nations reconciliation.

“But those things were lost when the Liberals raced ahead with this. Now we’re left with dealing with the consequences.”

Horgan said that in moving forward with the project, his government will launch a Site C turnaround plan to contain project costs while adding tangible benefits. The plan will include:

* A new Project Assurance Board that will provide enhanced oversight to future contract procurement and management, project deliverables, environmental integrity, and quality assurance - all within the mandate of delivering the project on time and budget. Based on current projections, BC Hydro has revised the budget to $10.7 billion.

* Establishing new community benefits programs, mandated with making sure that project benefits assist local communities, and increasing the number of apprentices and First Nations workers hired onto the project.

* A new BC Food Security Fund - based on Site C revenues - dedicated to supporting farming and enhancing agricultural innovation and productivity in the province.

In addition to funding for province-wide food security projects and programs, the turnaround plan will:

* Ensure the Peace River Legacy Fund implements solutions to longer-term environmental, social and economic issues.

* Activate the $20 million agricultural compensation fund to offset lost sales and stimulate long-term productivity enhancements in Peace Valley agriculture.

Horgan said, “We’re taking the steps the previous government showed no interest in: a solid budget, enhanced review and oversight, community benefits, and an eye to the future.

Horgan acknowledged that Site C does not have the support of all Treaty 8 First Nations.

“I respect and honour the commitment of people who oppose Site C, and share their determination to move BC to a clean, renewable energy future and to embrace the principles of reconciliation with Indigenous communities. We know this decision is not what some First Nations wanted. Their voices were heard and their perspectives were an important part of the deliberations on a very challenging decision.

“As we move forward, I welcome ideas from across our province as we define an energy strategy that protects our environment, delivers on our climate responsibilities, powers future generations, and creates jobs and opportunities for all British Columbians.”