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Construction Unions Pressing for Completion of Site C

As decision nears, unions lobby government and wage campaign to save dam jobs.

By Sarah Cox 24 Nov 2017 | Desmog Canada

Sarah Cox is an award-winning journalist who covers issues related to energy and the environment. Based in Victoria, she is the author of the forthcoming book Breaching the Peace: The Site C Dam and a Valley's Stand Against Big Hydro (UBC Press, Spring 2018).

This article first appeared in DeSmog Canada here.

The NDP’s trade union base fired another missive this week in an attempt to persuade the B.C. government to greenlight the Site C dam, as party insiders and union donors continue to ramp up lobbying efforts in support of the $9-billion hydro project.

The Allied Hydro Council of BC held its second press conference in a week attempting to discredit some of the findings of the independent BC Utilities Commission (BCUC) investigation into Site C.

The three-month BCUC investigation, which included troubling financial information on Site C uncovered by the auditing firm Deloitte LLP, found that Site C is behind schedule and over budget, with a final cost that could exceed $10 billion or, in a worst case scenario, more than $12.5 billion. The BCUC also determined that a renewable energy portfolio — primarily wind and geothermal — would provide cheaper and more dependable power than Site C.

But at a Wednesday press conference, the council released two short reports it commissioned showing “serious problems” with the BCUC’s analysis of the cost of cancelling Site C, claiming that the option of finishing the project, as opposed to terminating it, is the “hands-down winner.”

One eight-page report was written by economist Marvin Shaffer, a registered lobbyist for the council, which donated almost $100,000 to the BC NDP between 2005 and 2014, according to Elections BC.

Shaffer, an adjunct professor at Simon Fraser University, held senior positions with the NDP government in the 1990s, including as the head of the Crown Corporations Secretariat. On Nov. 16, Shaffer registered his intention to lobby the premier’s office on behalf of the Allied Hydro Council during the last two weeks of November.

The second report was authored by lawyer Jim Quail, an energy expert and long-time NDP supporter whose trade union background overlaps with that of Horgan’s chief of staff, Geoff Meggs. Quail’s Vancouver law firm — on whose letterhead the four-page report was written — donated more than $3,500 to the BC NDP between 2015 and 2017, according to Elections BC.

The Allied Hydro Council, a bargaining agent for unions at previous large hydro projects, said the BCUC report made “unbalanced” assumptions about power alternatives to Site C, understating the costs, risks and disadvantages of solar, wind and geothermal.

“The new B.C. NDP government has been left a disturbing legacy by the former BC Liberal government but now it has to make the best of it,” said Allied Hydro Council President Chris Feller. “And that means completion of Site C…”

Robert McCullough, a U.S. energy economist hired by the Peace Valley Landowners Association, a group of 70 landowners who will lose homes and property to Site C, pointed out that the Allied Hydro Council had a chance to weigh into the Site C investigation when it submitted a report to the BCUC, but failed to make compelling arguments.

“It’s a bit cheeky,” McCullough said of the new reports. “They presented at the BCUC and they were generally rejected there.”

McCullough, who is neither registered as a lobbyist nor a donor to the NDP, said the cost of clean energy renewables like wind and solar is falling so rapidly around the world that the prices cited in the BCUC report are already too high and “obsolete.”

“I’m afraid they are building a sand castle with the tide coming in,” said McCullough, whose testimony before a U.S. Senate Committee helped spark the criminal investigation into Enron’s collapse.

Speaking to press gallery reporters at a regular briefing Wednesday, Premier John Horgan said the government is still collecting information about Site C and has not yet made a decision.

“We’ve heard from people who say the utilities commission work was exemplary, and we’re heard from people who say the utilities commission work was deficient in a number of areas,” said Horgan. “So we have asked for more information.”

Running this week’s Allied Hydro Council press conference was Bill Tieleman, a former NDP strategist who spearheaded last week’s release of another Allied Hydro Council report that also challenged conclusions reached by the three-month BCUC investigation into Site C.

Tieleman, a columnist for 24 Hours and contributor to The Tyee, is a registered lobbyist for 14 organizations, including nine trade unions. Tieleman was also the communications director for former NDP premier Glen Clark.

Among the unions employing Tieleman as a lobbyist is the International Association of Heat and Frost Insulators and Asbestos Workers, which represents workers involved in B.C.’s insulation industry, including in construction. That union donated more than $22,000 to the NDP in 2016 and 2017, according to Elections B.C.

Records show that on July 31 Tieleman registered to lobby Horgan and 10 cabinet ministers on behalf of that union to promote “the creation and protection of private sector jobs, economic development and fair labour laws in regard to BC Hydro, Site C dam project and other infrastructure.”

The cabinet ministers Tieleman intended to target included Energy Minister Michelle Mungall, Finance Minister Carole James and Doug Donaldson, minister of forests, lands and natural resource operations.

That same day, on the union’s behalf, Tieleman registered his intention to lobby Horgan and seven ministers, including Mungall, James and Environment Minister George Heyman, on energy issues — including “energy conservation, green energy projects [and] appropriate regulations.”

Tieleman is also a lobbyist for the International Union of Operating Engineers, which represents workers in construction. That union donated almost $500,000 to the BC NDP from 2005 to 2017, according to Elections BC.

On Aug. 16, Tieleman registered his intention to lobby Horgan, his chief of staff, and a slew of ministers and their staff on behalf of Local 115 of the union, with the intended outcomes of improving labour relations and creating and protecting jobs.

Those ministers included Mungall, James, Donaldson, Labour Minister Harry Bains, Attorney General David Eby, Transportation and Infrastructure Minister Claire Trevena and Bruce Ralston, the minister of jobs, trade and technology.

Then, on Nov. 6, on behalf of the Construction and Specialized Workers’ Union, Tieleman again registered his intention to lobby Horgan and 10 cabinet ministers, including Mungall and James, this time focusing his efforts on “developing infrastructure using skilled and training BC labour and apprentices, creating jobs and local benefits.”

The Construction and Specialized Workers’ Union donated $122,500 to the NDP between 2005 and 2017, according to Elections BC — part of an estimated $14 million that was given to the B.C. NDP by unions between 2005 and 2015, according to a Vancouver Sun report.

On Nov. 17, Tieleman continued his lobby efforts, registering his intention to lobby Horgan and six ministers, including Mungall, to advocate for “job creation and protection” on behalf of the Ironworkers Union Shop Local 712, a union representing steel fabrication workers.

The Ironworkers union donated about $45,000 to the BC NDP between 2005 and 2015, according to Elections BC.

The Allied Hydro Council hoped to represent Site C workers. But BC Hydro dashed the council’s hopes in 2015 when it changed the long-standing labour model for building dams in the province and moved to an open-shop model that sought to curb organized labour activities.

The majority of Site C workers employed by the project’s main civil works contractor, Peace River Hydro Partners, are represented by the Christian Labour Association of Canada (CLAC), formed in 1952 to represent construction industry and other workers on the basis of “Christian social principles.”

CLAC donated about $4,300 to the B.C. Liberal Party between 2012 and 2016, according to Elections BC, which does not record any CLAC donations to the NDP.

Unlike unions represented by the Allied Hydro Council, CLAC does not belong to the BC Federation of Labour, which gave $1.5 million to the BC NDP between 2005 and 2017.

Three unions affiliated with the Allied Hydro Council attempted to raid CLAC members over the summer, but they were not successful. They included two of the unions that employ Tieleman as a lobbyist — the International Union of Operating Engineers Local 115, and the Construction and Specialized Workers Union Local 1611.

Feller said the Allied Hydro Council is “hopeful” there will be Site C jobs for its members in the future.

The council warned of a 10-per-cent increase in hydro bills if Site C is cancelled, while former BC Hydro CEO Marc Eliesen, calling Site C a “white elephant,” has said rate increases could be as high as 40 per cent if the dam is completed.

Site C’s cost has already ballooned from $6.6 billion in 2010 to $7.9 billion in 2013 to $8.8 billion in 2016 to $9 billion in 2017. The BCUC report warned that figured could easily reach $10 billion due to ongoing risks and uncertainties with the project and its construction.

In Newfoundland and Labrador and Manitoba, where large dams are also under construction, hydro customers now face double-digit rate increases due to cost overruns.

In Newfoundland and Labrador, the $12.7-billion Muskrat Falls dam will add an estimated $1,800 to the annual hydro bill of every household.

Stan Marshall, the CEO of Nalcor Energy, the Crown corporation in charge of building Muskrat Falls, has said the project is a “boondoggle” that should never have proceeded, while David Vardy, the former chair and CEO of Newfoundland’s public utilities board, has warned B.C. that it would be folly to continue building Site C.

The government has said it will make a final decision about Site C before the end of the year, based on the best outcome for B.C. ratepayers.  [Tyee]

Read more: Energy, BC Politics

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