Between a dam and a hard place
After approving a controversial capital project, B.C.’s government must face the wrath of environmentalists
for british columbia premier John Horgan, a recent decision was a classic example of the “damned if you do, damned if you don’t” idiom. Furthermore, that decision involved an actual dam — a very large one, in fact.
The novice premier, whose party upset the long-reigning B.C. Liberals last spring thanks to the support of the fledgling B.C. Green Party, had to lead his New Democratic Party (NDP) minority government in a ruling that would decide the fate of the largest capital project in B.C.’s history: the $10.7billion Site C hydroelectric project under construction on the Peace River.
Horgan admitted in the government’s announcement on Dec. 11, 2017, which stated the controversial project will proceed, that he made the final decision “with a heavy heart,” noting there were opposing views on the 1,100-megawatt megaproject.
Environmentalists didn’t like the fact that Site C still needs about 5,500 hectares of farmland to be flooded — even though the dam is the third hydro facility on the river being fed upstream by the massive Williston Lake reservoir.
Supporters, including much of B.C.’s business community, like that Site C will be a reliable, clean, low-cost energy source for about 100 years, thus giving B.C. a competitive economic edge.
Now, with the decision made, the NDP has to face many staunch environmentalists who supported the party in the election. Ever since the previous Liberal government gave Site C the go-ahead — without requiring a full regulatory hearing — the NDP opposed the project. However, had Horgan’s government decided to cancel the project, all hell would’ve broken loose.
Thanks to the Liberals’ endorsement, construction on Site C began in July 2015. So, by the time Horgan ordered a quick regulatory review of the project last summer, more than 2,400 British Columbians were working on the project. Employment, of course, will only increase as Site C moves toward its 2024 completion date.
After the B.C. Utilities Commission’s public inquiry and report were completed in November, giving Horgan and his cabinet data required for a decision, Site C construction moved beyond the point of no return.
Ultimately, continuing the project came down to an issue of dollars and cents. About $2 billion had been spent to date and, if the project was killed, almost another $2 billion would be required for site remediation. Further billions would be required for alternative power-generation projects to replace a cancelled Site C.
Most critically, Horgan’s government couldn’t afford to cancel Site C and still have enough money left for spending on housing, schools, hospitals and universal child care that was promised during the election campaign. “That’s a price we’re not willing to pay,” Horgan declared.
Ironically, the vehemently anti-Site C Greens did not bring down the minority NDP on this issue because they have bigger fish to fry. The Greens hope to persuade voters in a coming referendum to change B.C.’s “first past the post” electoral system to a form of proportional representation. If successful, the three-seat Greens stand a much better chance to win substantially more seats in the next election.
As is usual in B.C., politics prevailed.