Friday, October 17, 2014

Site C doesn't fit behind closed doors

Site C doesn't fit behind closed doors
Hydro-electricity is extremely important for our province. It's an economic engine and a source of clean and renewable energy.

The Site C project is potentially the next big public hydro project and it’s been up for discussion for years. This past week the BC Liberals granted this project environmental approval. They claim that the benefits outweigh the social and environmental costs of building it.

The Federal Government has said the same thing.

The next step that a responsible Government would take in a project this size, 8 to 10 (or more) billion taxpayer dollars, would be to send it to the BC Utilities Commission.

This commission would review the project’s costs and impacts on ratepayers. In fact, sending it to the BCUC is the law …unless the government exempts itself from what’s required by the law. And this my friends, is the case with the BC Liberals.

If they don’t like the way the law affects the way they do business, they exempt themselves!

So currently, Site C is exempted from a review at the BCUC and that is fundamentally wrong. With this amount of taxpayer’s dollars potentially being spent, we should expect and we deserve accountability.

What will the costs of the project actually be and how will this impact our future hydro rates? Do we even need the power right now? Those are just the beginning of the questions that need to be answered but they won’t be because the BCUC will not have a say.

If this project were to go ahead it would come with huge sacrifices. There would be profound impacts on First Nations, massive loss of agricultural land, and natural habitat that would be changed forever. Without actually knowing if we need Site C or if it’s a sound investment, how can we accept the changes that would affect our Province forever?

Not sending this project on to the BCUC for a proper cost-benefit analysis before spending at least 8 to 10 Billion dollars is irresponsible and unacceptable.

As the Spokesperson for Agriculture, I fear that by side-stepping the BCUC, we will not have a chance to make the argument for our food growing lands. 5,000 hectares of prime agricultural land in the Peace River Valley would be flooded. That is hugely significant.

Climate change means that we must update BC’s agricultural plan. We would be fools not to, given the state of the regions we source from. Look at California. It's in its third year of an extreme drought. This is a drought that is devastating food production in that state, and it’s having continental impacts.

For example, food prices in BC are estimated to rise by 34% this year because we source a large percentage of our fruits and vegetables from California. I believe that protecting and increasing BC’s food self-sufficiency should be a top priority for this government.

But the BC Liberals will now skip past the BCUC and consider the economic case for Site C behind closed doors at the Cabinet table. But what's the cost to our Province of losing the food growing potential offered by the Peace River Valley? How can you explore the economics of Site C without first getting the facts from the BCUC? It is generally accepted that one would get the facts first. Can British Columbians have confidence in the BC Liberals to get this right?

They change the law when it hampers them, and their recent work on agriculture and the weakening of Agricultural Land Reserve are just two examples of why they can’t be trusted.

The bottom line is this. Without the BCUC being the next step, the BC Liberals do not deserve to have their hands on a project with this many implications.

Lana Popham, MLA Saanich South