Unions make their case to build Site C dam

The Province - - NEWS - Mike Smyth msmyth@post­media.com twit­ter.com/MikeSmythNews

It stands as the tough­est de­ci­sion of Pre­mier John Hor­gan’s gov­ern­ing man­date: Whether to kill or build the $8.8-bil­lion (and ris­ing) Site C dam.

Now, with the cru­cial de­ci­sion loom­ing, B.C.’s pow­er­ful labour unions want to help Hor­gan make up his mind.

Later this week, a con­sor­tium of unions will re­lease a new re­port call­ing on Hor­gan’s NDP gov­ern­ment to com­plete con­struc­tion of the dam, de­spite fierce op­po­si­tion of en­vi­ron­men­tal­ists and some First Na­tions.

Watch for the re­port, from the Al­lied Hy­dro Coun­cil of B.C., to ar­gue the dam is so far along the con­struc­tion sched­ule that it makes no sense to stop build­ing it now.

Mean­while, the head of the prov­ince’s big­gest con­struc­tion unions is call­ing for Hor­gan to com­plete the dam — but with more union work­ers.

“We say build the project,” Tom Sig­urd­son, head of the B.C. Build­ing Trades Coun­cil, said Mon­day. “But change the labour pro­cure­ment model so you have a qual­i­fied B.C. work­force, ap­pren­tice­ships and In­dige­nous peo­ple in­cluded.”

He’s talk­ing about a Project Labour Agree­ment, giv­ing pref­er­en­tial hir­ing to union work­ers, though nonunion com­pa­nies could still bid on con­tracts, too.

B.C. Hy­dro has al­ready ap­proved some mas­sive non-union Site C con­struc­tion con­tracts — but sev­eral ma­jor con­tracts are still out­stand­ing, Sig­urd­son points out.

“The pow­er­house and spill­way con­tracts are still to be let,” he said.

“That’s at least $1.5 bil­lion — likely closer to $2 bil­lion when the bids come in.”

This kind of build-it-any­way talk angers op­po­nents of the Site C dam, who say the project is too ex­pen­sive, too harm­ful to the en­vi­ron­ment and we don’t need all the ad­di­tional power any­way.

But other ma­jor labour unions ar­gue the project has passed the point of no re­turn eco­nom­i­cally.

Watch for the Al­lied Hy­dro Coun­cil to re­lease a re­port this week say­ing B.C. Hy­dro has al­ready spent around $3 bil­lion on the dam and it would cost close to $2 bil­lion more in work site re­me­di­a­tion if the project is scrapped.

That would be $5 bil­lion for noth­ing — the big­gest pub­lic-sec­tor boon­dog­gle in B.C. his­tory.

The coun­cil — an al­liance of trade unions — will also ar­gue that Hy­dro would have to spend bil­lions more on al­ter­na­tive, new en­ergy sources if Site C is scrapped.

It’s there­fore “in the pub­lic in­ter­est and ratepay­ers’ in­ter­est to pro­ceed with Site C,” the coun­cil urged in an ear­lier re­port to the B.C. Util­i­ties Com­mis­sion.

Keep in mind these unions are closely al­lied with the gov­ern­ing NDP and helped get Hor­gan elected. Their ar­gu­ments could be crit­i­cal in push­ing the Site C dam to com­ple­tion.

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