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How to Fight Site C

Six ways citizens can sway the government to reverse a disastrous decision.

Andrew Nikiforuk 4 Jan

Andrew Nikiforuk is an award-winning journalist who has been writing about the energy industry for two decades and is a contributing editor to The Tyee. Find his previous stories here.

By approving Site C, Premier John Horgan has made a disastrous decision that will destabilize the provincial economy, increase electrical prices and reduce food security.

Horgan and his cabinet not only damned the public interest but also ignored the alarming science on megaprojects, which is any complex scheme that costs more than a billion dollars.

The business science on megaprojects is unequivocal: nine out of 10 experience cost overruns and delays and they rarely deliver the benefits promised. Moreover, “misinformation about costs, schedules, benefits and risks is the norm,” according to Oxford University’s Bent Flyvbjerg.

Site C provides an appalling example par excellence. The unneeded project started as a $6.6 billion boondoggle in 2010.

The former Liberal government pushed the project forward without review of cheaper alternatives that used flawed electrical demand forecasts that had no basis in reality.

Now the megaproject has ballooned into $10.7 billion monster. After two years of a planned nine-year construction schedule, it is already in deep trouble.

It took an abbreviated and limited BC Utilities Commission review to force BC Hydro to admit that the largest infrastructure project in the province’s history was over budget, behind schedule and running into costly geo-technical issues.

As economist Erik Andersen has noted, the economics of the project are poisonous.

“What makes the decision to go ahead with Site C bad is that we will get unneeded electricity at a borrowed money cost of about $11 billion or about $125 per MWhr, when the open market wholesale price in western North America has and will likely continue to be at about CDN $35 per MWhr, a third the cost of electricity from Site C.”

When politicians ignore this kind of evidence and the consequences for taxpayers, then citizens must hold their government accountable.

Citizens and the media (what’s left of it) have but one duty: to remind government it is a temporary servant and its job is to obey the will of the people as opposed to the whims of corporations and special interests.

That’s why the fight over Site C has just begun. There is too much at stake here.

Fiscal conservatives should be outraged by the foul economics. Ordinary citizens should be alarmed by the implications for electrical rate increases and food security.

Engineers should be screaming about the fraudulent “optimism bias” and “strategic misrepresentation” built into every megaproject.

Economists should be sounding alarm bells about cheaper alternatives.

Environmentalists should be protesting that dams are not a climate solutions or “clean” by any measure.

First Nations should be uniformly incensed by the government’s appalling indifference to reconciliation and treaty rights.

So, what are citizens to do? Well, you can exercise your responsibilities as a citizen in the following ways.

1) Write real letters on real paper to the Premier, the cabinet and MLAs every week. Express your concern and dismay. And always ask a question; there is no shortage of good ones. Why did the government ignore the recommendations of the BCUC? Why has the government ignored the science on megaprojects? What kind of rate increases does this $10.7 billion megaproject guarantee for future generations? Why didn’t the government pursue cheaper alternatives? Why didn’t the government review the project’s environmental impacts? Why did Horgan insult First Nations and the whole process of reconciliation? Why is the NDP trying to legitimize a development conceived by a Liberal government as nothing more than a vanity project?

2) Support the Peace Valley Landowner Association and Peace Valley Environmental Association. Unlike the majority of so-called environmental groups in this province, these grassroots groups, in solidarity with Treaty 8 First Nations, have led the opposition to the Site C. At great cost, they hired lawyers and experts to intervene in the BCUC inquiry. These citizens, who live where the damage is being done, are prepared to continue the fight but need the financial support of British Columbians. You can support their fight, which is now every citizen’s battle. 

3) Buy a yellow survey stake to help fight the government in the courts. The Prophet River and West Moberly First Nations need funds to seek a court injunction to stop this uneconomic megaproject. They are also preparing a civil suit for treaty infringement. More than 700 stakes have been purchased to date. Make it 7,000. 

4) Demand that Auditor General Carol Bellringer audit the NDP government’s highly questionable rationale for continuing this megaproject. The auditor general had planned to examine Site C but put that review on hold during the BCUC inquiry. Robert Botterell, a lawyer representing Peace Valley landowners, has now asked the auditor general to answer eight basic questions such as, “What is the likely minimum cash impact on present and future BC Hydro ratepayers and B.C. taxpayers of completing Site C vs. cancelling Site C?”

5) Hold vigils or protests at MLA offices. Remind New Democrats that they were elected to represent the 90 per cent and not the 10 per cent. Remind them they have a democratic duty to uphold and defend the public interest as opposed to special interests. And then remind them it is not to too late to stop this fiscal and ecological calamity dressed up as “clean energy project.”

6) Attend the Site C Summit: Accountability and Action in Victoria on Jan. 26 and 27. Grand Chief Stewart Phillips, the keynote speaker, has warned that approval of Site C “will inflict irreparable harm on the NDP brand in B.C. and could very well represent Black Monday in the history of the NDP in this province.”

The British novelist Julian Barnes once observed, “The greatest patriotism is to tell your country when it is behaving dishonourably, foolishly, viciously.”

That hour has arrived for every British Columbian.

This article was supported by those who generously contributed to the Rafe Mair Memorial Fund for Environmental Reporting on The Tyee. To find out more or contribute, click here.  [Tyee]

Read more: Energy, Environment

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