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Site C Dam Decision Causes Friction Within NDP Ranks Ahead of Provincial Council Meeting

By Sarah Cox - DeSmog Canada, February 2, 2018

When B.C. cabinet members arrive at the NDP’s provincial council meeting tomorrow in New Westminster, they will face a group of “very concerned” delegates and party members who are urging the government to reconsider its decision to proceed with the Site C dam.

We’re not going to let this rest,” said Jef Keighley, vice-president of the Surrey South NDP constituency association. “The NDP campaigned on the whole concept of transparency so let’s be transparent.”

Keighley is one of 400 people — the majority of them NDP members and supporters — who attended a Site C Summit in Victoria last weekend aimed at making the government accountable for its decision to continue with Site C and outlining an action plan to stop the $10.7 billion project on the Peace River.

We believe the NDP cabinet was misled in its ill-considered decision to proceed with Site C,” states a letter from summit participants to NDP provincial council delegates and observers, a copy of which was provided to DeSmog Canada.

A reconsideration and reversal of that decision, sooner rather than later, is critical to the long-term interest of the people of B.C.”

The letter says it is “imperative” that the provincial council agenda be amended to include a discussion on Site C. The main items on the agenda are currently the upcoming provincial budget and proportional representation.  

The council, which meets four times a year, is the governing body of the NDP between conventions, with input on issues from cabinet and the NDP’s provincial office. Constituency associations around the province elect voting delegates to the council.



Chief among the issues raised in the 10-page letter to council delegates and observers is the government’s claim that it received “unambiguous advice” that Site C’s $3 billion to $4 billion in sunk costs would have to be almost immediately recovered from BC Hydro customers, leading to $198 extra on annual household hydro bills.

Keighley said there is “an enormous amount of disquiet” within the NDP about the Site C decision and party members are asking the government to provide the documentation to support that advice.

Quite frankly, it doesn’t make sense by any stretch of the imagination,” said Keighley, a former national representative for the Canadian Auto Workers Union (now Unifor) who has campaigned for the NDP in every provincial and federal election since 1975.

It would be like saying we’ve discovered that we have a problem with our house so rather than pay our mortgage off over 30 years we feel compelled to pay it off over three years, and that’s going to cause us economic problems.”

Although details of cabinet meetings are confidential, Keighley pointed out that the documentation on which the Site C decision was made was “paid for by every British Columbian and we have a right to see that.”

While the letter and communiqué from the Site C Summit circulates inside the council meeting, another group of NDP members plans to stand outside the convention centre doors handing out a different letter to delegates and observers that also calls for Site C’s cancellation.

NDP member Rita Wong said new information has come to light since the December 11 announcement that the Site C dam will proceed, and many party members do not accept cabinet’s decision.

We will not be silent, and we hope our voices encourage more people to examine why this decision is a terrible mistake,” says the open letter, signed by 100 party members and NDP supporters.

Wong cited the rapidly falling price of other clean energy sources, such as wind, as an example of new information. Alberta recently purchased new wind power for $37 per megawatt hour, compared to Site C’s projected cost of $125 per megawatt hour.

She also pointed to the application for an injunction to stop work on the Site C dam, filed by two Treaty 8 First Nations, as providing a new rationale for the NDP to cancel the project, given the party’s stated commitment to the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

There’s new information that any rational, knowledgeable person that’s evidence (based) should be considering in light of the business case, or lack thereof, for Site C,” Wong told DeSmog Canada.

And then there’s the fact that BC Hydro has selected Aecon — which is in the process of being taken over by the state-owned China Communications Construction Company (CCCC) — to lead a consortium to build Site C’s generating station and spillways.

CCCC, the Site C Summit delegates noted in their communiqué, has “an abysmal record when it comes to workers’ health and safety, environmental practices and working conditions,” and has been barred by the World Bank from bidding on any bank-financed road and bridge projects as a result of its questionable business practices.

Wong is also a member of the B.C. NDP’s Standing Committee on the Environment for an Ecologically and Economically Sustainable Future.

Eight members of that committee wrote to Environment Minister George Heyman in late November, urging the government to cancel Site C, in part because the project contravenes the NDP’s “Sustainable B.C.” vision adopted in 2007.

Among the principles outlined in the vision are ecosystem and biodiversity protection, full-cost economics and “democracy and due process,” including “access to full and accurate information concerning all elements of public policy.”  

Keighley said if Site C fails to make it onto the council agenda tomorrow due to time constraints, he and other party members and delegates are encouraging attendees to take the information about Site C back to their constituencies for further discussion.

Site C is such an important issue that there should be a special provincial council meeting devoted entirely to the topic, Keighley said.

He pointed out that cabinet received advice about the relative merits of continuing or terminating Site C from bureaucrats appointed by the previous Liberal administration, which vowed to push the project “past the point of no return.”

I’m not prepared to allow my party to go into the dumpster simply because some bureaucrats have decided that they are attempting the sabotage the future of the province.”

In a statement emailed to DeSmog Canada, the premier’s office said it respects “the commitment of people who oppose Site C” and shares “their determination to move B.C. to a clean, renewable energy future and to embrace the principles of reconciliation with Indigenous communities.”

The statement reiterated Premier John Horgan’s previous claim that cancelling Site C would add billions to B.C.’s debt and put at risk the government’s ability to deliver on its priorities, a claim disputed by project financing experts.

Image: Premier John Horgan annouces the government's decision to move ahead with Site C. Photo: Carol Linnitt | DeSmog Canada.

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