The government’s decision to build the dam makes it abundantly clear that the struggle to defend indigenous rights and the environment must be built outside of parliament
Gary Porter is a member of the New Democratic Party in British Columbia. This article was published in Turn Left, the magazine of the NDP Socialist Caucus. It was distributed to delegates at last month’s federal NDP convention.
by Gary Porter
On December 11, British Columbia’s New Democratic Party Premier John Horgan announced that his government would complete the third massive power dam on the beautiful Peace River in north-eastern BC at a cost of $11 billion. Andrew Weaver, leader of the BC Green Party, who signed a “confidence and supply” agreement with the labour-based NDP, allowing it to form a minority government after sixteen years of right-wing rule by the BC Liberal Party, condemned the decision. But Weaver said he would not force an election over it.
The Site C go-ahead tramples the rights of indigenous peoples in BC. It mocks the promise of the BC NDP to respect those rights. The dam will flood 80 kilometers of forest along the river and bury over 6,500 hectares (14,000 acres) of prime agricultural land (BC Hydro estimate), along with the history, cultural treasures and burial grounds of the native peoples.
Grand Chief Stewart Phillip of the Union of BC Indian Chiefs stated that “a nod of approval doesn’t guarantee that this project will, in fact, happen. Certainly, there are thousands of people who are bitterly disappointed.” Bob Botterell, attorney for the Peace Valley Landowners’ Association, said that his clients viewed the NDP government review process preceding the “go” decision as a sham. He predicted that his clients would use every legal tool to stop the project.
Premier Horgan argued that the $4 billion cost of halting the project, $2.2 billion already spent and $1.8 billion to re-mediate the affected area, would prompt an immediate 12 per cent increase in hydro prices. This claim is either ignorant or dishonest. Such cancellation costs under government accounting rules in Canada can be written off over as much as 30 years. The original project cost estimate in
2012 was $6.6 billion; it is now $11 billion. No one really knows what it will cost to proceed. All of this will be financed by high-grade BC bonds — a boon to the financial brokers and bankers of Canada. Instead, $11 billion could finance 100 new schools or 20 new hospitals.
Environmentalists point to rapidly falling prices of solar, of wind and geothermal power, and to the geometric increases in battery storage capacity. If the project was stopped today and simply re-mediated, and the province proceeded instead with solar and wind projects, the power could be generated more cheaply and with no violation of the rights of indigenous people or any destruction of the fertile Peace River Valley.
Perhaps the worst is yet to come. Site C was launched by the previous BC Liberal government to provide massive power support for a prospective Liquid Natural Gas (LNG) industry in BC using fracking technology. Although one large project proposed by international hydrocarbon giant Petronas, has folded, other big oil and gas companies have expressed passing interest. Horgan, as NDP Energy critic while in opposition, expressed his support for this water polluting, environment wrecking, earthquake causing enterprise.
More recently Michelle Mungall, the BC NDP’s new minister of energy, mines and petroleum resources, stated in Vancouver, “Our position has always been supportive of LNG, as long as the industry meets our four conditions. And what I think is important to remember is that conditions are not roadblocks; they’re road maps.”
Mungall’s job description letter from the Premier includes a directive to nurture the sector based on four criteria: a “fair return” for the province, accommodation of First Nations’ interests, protection of the environment, and guarantees of jobs and training for British Columbians. Given the Site C decision and the loose approach to the facts and reasons for proceeding, can the NDP be trusted to negotiate these conditions in good faith? Basically, jobs and royalties are likely all they consider worth fighting for.
If the LNG dream becomes reality, it would put the BC NDP government squarely on the wrong side of the struggle for environmental sanity – right alongside the tar sands oil industry backed by Alberta’s NDP government.
The Site C decision makes it abundantly clear that the struggle to defend indigenous rights and the environment is not centered in the parliamentary arena. It must be concentrated in the streets by mass action. Indigenous peoples, environmentalists, deeply disappointed New Democrats, young people and trade unionists who understand that planetary survival is the only way to defend workers in the medium term, should unite to stop this craven sellout to big oil and gas, and to the financial institutions that fund them.