Opinion

Please Advise! What’s the Doctor’s Prescription for Site C?

Who knows? But whatever he decides, John Horgan is going to need help with a nasty headache.

By Steve Burgess 24 Nov 2017 | TheTyee.ca

Steve Burgess writes about politics and culture for The Tyee. Find his previous articles here.

Steve Burgess is an accredited spin doctor with a Ph.D in Centrifugal Rhetoric from the University of SASE, situated on the lovely campus of PO Box 7650, Cayman Islands. In this space he dispenses PR advice to politicians, the rich and famous, the troubled and well-heeled, the wealthy and gullible.

Dear Dr. Steve,

The Site C decision is supposed to be coming by the end of the year. Lately the straws in the wind have been blowing towards approval of the project. What’s your guess? Will Premier Horgan give Site C the go-ahead?

Signed,

Energy Voter

Dear EV,

The recent death of Charles Manson has got me thinking about Hell. Lots of people think old Charlie is there right now, roasting and crackling like a deep-fried Thanksgiving bird. Others think he's probably running the place. Still others are caught in an odd, wistful nostalgia for the days when they believed that Hell truly existed, an innocent longing for a realm of eternal torment where Hitler, Stalin, Pol Pot, Manson and the composers of It’s a Small World After All writhe in agony, even as demons wearing safety gear build a special chamber of horrors reserved for Trump and his entourage.

But ask Premier Horgan about Hell and he will tell you about it in no uncertain terms. Not only is it real, it is located right here in British Columbia. Two other Hades sites having apparently been rejected, the contractors for this particular infernal region eventually settled on Site C. That’s the location of the brand new Horgan Hell.

It’s not enough to say that Horgan is on the horns of a dilemma with Site C. Satan does not have sufficient horns to cover all the political predicaments involved.

First up is that most enduring NDP problem, the split between the environmental left and the labour left. Should Horgan support a project that promises to provide construction jobs for thousands? Or should he listen to those who say that the same amount of money devoted to alternative energy projects would pay far greater dividends, and with less environmental disruption?

It’s a bit like military spending — it provides jobs that are easy to point to. Harder to quantify are the number of jobs that would be created if the same amount of money was devoted to something other than tanks and fighter jets. Wouldn’t billions invested in other projects pay off more efficiently and leave the Peace River Valley in peace?

But wait, Hell has more dilemmas in stock! Despite near-unanimous Green party opposition to Site C, an honest assessment ought to admit there are two defensible points of view on the environmental side. The destruction of the beautiful Peace River Valley is a sufficiently vivid horror to block any view of the project’s environmental benefits. But it’s not like they’re building another oil sands project up there. If greenhouse gases from fossil fuel use are indeed the greatest environmental threat we face, you ought to at least be able to build an argument for the creation of extra hydro capacity that could presumably power more electric cars in a cleaner world to come.

Groups like the Wilderness Committee argue that Site C is merely intended to power oil, gas and mining industries. It’s an unusual argument — opposing the creation of hydroelectric power because that power will be used to benefit fossil fuel industries. Are they saying that if you prevent the construction of Site C, it will cause fossil fuel industries to wither?

Another argument is that Site C is a devious tactic intended to satisfy our climate agreement commitments, so that existing industries will not be forced to clean up their acts. Again, a strange argument — we should cancel this project so that big fossil fuel polluters won’t have their asses covered? By that logic perhaps we ought to cancel wind and solar projects too. That’ll really hold those bastards’ feet to the fire.

Green politicians often seem to have a bias against anything big and expensive. Recall that the BC Greens did not support building the Canada Line (known at the time as the RAV line). You’d think it would be a slam dunk to get behind a massive investment in public transit designed to replace millions of car trips to the airport, but it wasn’t the case. Again, the Greens felt the money could be more efficiently spent elsewhere, but the line was built and has been a huge success. All of which is simply to say that Green party positions are not indisputable examples of sound environmental policy.

Still, the report from the BC Utilities Commission gave Site C a “B” for “boondoggle,” claiming it will likely experience massive cost overruns, produce power B.C. is unlikely to need and be less efficient than funding alternative sources. Boom! But then the BCUC had to admit its findings were flawed, although it did not back away from its main conclusion.

Stopping the project will mean writing off billions in public money. Thousands of jobs will be deep-sixed. On the other hand, analysts have argued that for the amount of money spent to create each Site C job you could give each potential worker a million bucks or two and still come out ahead.

Dr. Steve admits this brain teaser may be above his pay grade. That is one reason, among many thousands, why Dr. Steve has never run for office. No, the day Dr. Steve meets Satan, he wants to be able to wish for something unambiguous — maybe just a sweet percentage of those sunk costs and a few good years to enjoy the windfall before the floods and tornadoes come.

Leave the other choices to Premier Horgan. Christmas in Decision Hell is not the Doctor’s idea of fun.  [Tyee]

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