Note to Reader: I made this presentation on February 9th 2017 at a forum that was hosted by UVIC, Amnesty International, Sierra Club BC, Council of Canadian, Kairos BC. It was a 20 minute presentation so this article is a bit long.
Sometimes it is hard to believe it is 2017 when BC is building yet another mega dam that will destroy the land, the water and the ecosystems and First Nations cultural and heritage sites, agricultural lands, people’s homes and so many other important things. You wonder how can a government be so short sighted, money minded and grasping for a legacy that will bear their name in order to win the next election.
BC thinks nothing about inundating First Nation burial sites, sacred and heritage sites, areas with unique ecosystems that support the exercise of treaty rights and increasing the already massive cumulative effects on ecosystems caused by the other dams on the Peace River in northern BC.
It seems so backward that BC would build Site C dam when there are so many other viable options to produce power that BC could have pursued like renewable energy.
Building Site C is a purely political decision. It was a decision based on need to get re-elected and make up for the lack of LNG facilities as promised in the last election. It has to be political because it a well-known fact, one that was confirmed by the Joint Review Panel that BC does not this power in 2024 and the Premier is desperately looking for a buyer for the power. It became very political when in the Clean Energy Act Site C was exempted from oversight from the BC Utilities Commission. (BCUC) The BCUC turned down the Site C dam in 1983 and the Liberals didn’t want to risk that happening again. They knowingly wanted to invest in energy that isn’t need. The demand for power in BC has been declining or remains flat.
It is this same political agenda that is pushing to get the project beyond the point of no return that drives the Liberals to do things that don’t need to be done yet-eg. Cutting the trees in the wetlands areas when it doesn’t need to be done now. There also reports that they are cutting corners on regulatory processes and consultations in order to get this dam pushed forward before the election in case they lose and the next government will need to complete it.
JOINT REVIEW PANEL UNDER THE CANADIAN ENVIRONMENTAL ASSESSMENT ACT
When the Joint Review Panel (JRP) made its report to the BC and Federal governments they had a long list of significant adverse affects most of which could not be mitigated. You would think that any government seeing the long list of significant adverse affects would turn it down like they did with the Prosperity Mine. Most of these cannot be mitigated because they will be inundated with water. The government as always chose what they think is for the greater public good (although the public doesn’t need this electricity) and jobs. What must be pointed out that while there may be jobs available during construction, that after construction, it will only take twenty-five (25) people to operate and maintain the dam.
JRP findings included:
a) The Project would likely cause a significant adverse effect on fishing opportunities and practices for 6 First Nations, the effects of which could not be mitigated;
b) The Project would likely cause a significant adverse effect on hunting and non-tenured trapping of 5 First Nations and that these effects could not be mitigated;
c) The Project would likely cause a significant adverse effect on other traditional uses of the land for 7 First Nations, and that some of these effects could not be mitigated;
d) The Project would likely cause significant adverse cumulative effects on the current use of lands and resources for traditional purposes
e) There would be significant cumulative adverse effects on cultural heritage resources for both Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal people;
f) The Project would result in significant adverse cumulative effects on fish and fish habitat, vegetation and ecological communities, birds and migratory birds, large mammals and visual resources;
As you can see, the abrogation and infringement on treaty 8 rights by Site C has very negative impacts. It will change the way of life of the First Nations in this area. It will impact the quality of meat, they are already finding moose whose meat is green when you open them up and this is effects from the existing dams. The fish is also filled with mercury and makes it inedible. In the treaty 8 territory, the impact of industrialization be it oil and gas, fracking, mining, and other industries have already made it difficult to carry out their way of life and Site C adds exponentially to the cumulative effects.
CONSEQUENCE #1 on Proceeding with Site C Against First Nations Wishes
The biggest consequence of proceeding with Site C without obtaining First Nations consent is the loss of relationship between the governments and First Nations and thereby negating any ability to reconcile. With respect to the province of BC, there is a definitely loss of trust, that the government has any intention of working with First Nations and has no intention of protecting their rights. A few First Nations have entered into agreements on Site C but those First Nations have felt they had to as they knew the dam would be built without them. You have First Nations opposing the provincial and federal governments in court and in some cases on the land. The governments like to let the public think that First Nations are against development and so public perception can be very negative to these First Nations. It is very hard to work with government on other things when they don’t respect First Nations rights-just inundate them without a plan on how to mitigate and manage the abrogation of rights. There has been a complete loss of trust.
With respect to the Trudeau government, he promised a new Nation-to-Nation relationship that has not materialized in any form or shape. One Nation does not impose decisions on another and this is what Canada has done. They don’t even hold out hope for joint decision making-they just want to do whatever they think is good for First Nations. Continued patriarchy.
Trudeau said there is no other relationship is as important to him as the one with First Nations. I would hate to see how he treats relationships that are less important. He treats First Nation with minimal respect, goes against his promises to implement the Universal Declaration of Indigenous Rights (UNDRIP) and the recommendations of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC). Both documents state that First Nations have the right to Free Prior and Informed Consent. (FPIC) Even though he promised that he would respect First Nation consent, he has now backtracked and said FPIC does not mean a veto. No does not mean no in his government. FPIC to Trudeau means the government will do whatever it wants regardless of the lack of consent by First Nations. Trudeau has fallen out of grace with a lot of First Nations because of his position on FPIC. He is like every other politician that thinks money and jobs are the most important thing, not the new Nation-to-Nation relationship he promised. So overall, if you are looking at the true cost of Site C, how do you put a price on the loss of trust/ability to reconcile and build a good relationship with First Nations. Trust and Relationships are invaluable and the cost of Site C skyrockets when you add this in. This is a devastating consequence to First Nations-government relations.
ADD TRUE COST #1: DESTRUCTION OF BURIAL, SACRED AND CULTURAL SITES
Another cost that needs to be added into the real cost of Site C is the loss of First Nations burial, sacred and cultural sites. How do you put a value on the loss of burial grounds? How much would you ask for if your family burial plot that contained many generations of ancestors was going to be placed under water? Or how do you place value on a spiritual site that generations of ancestors have used since time immemorial. Or a cultural site that has stories, histories, and practices that have not been done anywhere else in the territory. These sites are irreplaceable, rare and priceless. There were over 300 recorded archaeological sites that were approved to be destroyed. The Heritage Conservation Act does not protect recorded sites-they can always be altered or destroyed. You can add this value on to the cost of Site C that would make it far more than the estimated $8.8 billion.
The loss of valuable farm land-true cost of lost opportunity for use of land into the future has not been added in other than what has been paid to residents. This does not take into account the generations that have owned the family land and their own reluctance to sell their land. The added value of having agricultural land in BC that is now lost to BC has not been figured into the cost of Site C. This is especially important to value when it becomes exorbitant to bring in produce from Mexico and California not possible to bring in products from Mexico and California or other places. All this would add onto the true cost of Site C. The consequence of this of course is not having access to reasonably priced produce and fruits when we need it.
ADD TRUE COST #2: LOSS OF RIGHTS
How do you put a price on the loss of a treaty right? Some rights will be completely abrogated due to the inundation of the dam. JRP listed fishing, hunting, trapping, gathering, cumulative effects on heritage cultural sites. HOW DO YOU PUT A PRICE ON LOSS OF HABITAT WHEN IT CANNOT BE REPLICATED? Or what value can we put on the loss of the right to hunt or fish for many generations to come? The Tsilhqot’in case at the Supreme Court of Canada directed the government and First Nations that to ensure that rights can be carried out for generations to come. The proposed 60 meter high Site C dam would flood over 100 km of river valley, drowning a land area equal to 14 Stanley Parks, and risking landslides as the banks of the reservoir erode over time so the area of loss of the ability to exercise their rights is large and hard to put a value on the loss of rights, and the ecosystems that supports those rights or the pollution of waters that sustain the fish or the wildlife.
ADD TRUE COST #3: LOSS OF REVENUE TO BC-REGIONS OF THE PROVINCE
BC Hydro has offered very limited opportunities for producing clean energy ever since the decision to proceed with Site C was made. BC Hydro is procuring 45 MW of clean power per year until 2019. It is unknown after 2019 if any clean energy will be called for and certainly post 2024 when Site C power is expected to come on line.
There is no need for all the power Site C will produce and Christy Clark is desperately looking for buyers in 2024.
Alberta has made buying any BC power conditional on getting pipelines through the province. TheBC government consciously made the decision to go ahead with Site C knowing they all but killed the clean energy industry in BC.
They also knew that they had made promises for opportunities to develop clean energy to First Nations through legislation in the Clean Energy Act and other political promises in the new relationship, by creating the BC First Nations Clean Energy Business fund and other such promises. There are around 125 First Nations involved in the renewable energy industry and many of them have more than one project they are involved with. The BC Government consciously walked away from these promises and are having a hard time rationalizing it to First Nations.
THE BC GOVERNMENT WALKED AWAY FROM THE CLEAN ENERGY INDUSTRY DESPITE THE FOLLOWING FACTS:
(Facts are from Clean Energy BC report done by MNP found at https://www.cleanenergybc.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/04/MNP-Report-April.pdf)
- · BC IPPs produce enough electricity to light up 1 million homes. 25 percent of BC Hydro’s energy supply comes from independent power producers, of which 14 percent is provided by stand-alone clean-energy producers. (thereare106 projects in total in operation in BC.)
- · British Columbia’s clean power industry has attracted more than $8.6 billion in investment, and the money is spent in local economies, including the province’s north and interior regions.
- · The sector has to date supported 15,970 direct, FTE person years of construction employment in every region of the province—with another 4,543 FTE person years of employment in the works on forthcoming projects.
- · Renewable power companies now employ 641 people in operational roles around the province. Projects now under construction will support an additional 165 such positions once online. (806 in total)
- · 125 First Nations are involved in clean energy projects from revenue sharing to owners in whole or in part.
- · Clean Energy brings jobs, revenues training, procurement, community pride to all regions of BC. Also provides regional power and not all from northeastern BC.
- · On Vancouver Island alone there are 22 projects and 1 in development.
- · Operations of these projects are $1.6 billion, in development $200 million
- · Cape Scott Wind farm: $800,000 in taxes in 2015
- · Kokish River: $1 million in property taxes 2015
- · Namgis First Nation: $165,000-$192,000 from revenue sharing from Kokish River
- · Klahoose: $214,000 per year from revenue sharing from Jimmie Creek
- · Mowachat-Muchalaht First Nation-$30,000 per year from revenue sharing from Cypress Creek Hydro.
Clean energy projects brings benefits from the projects be they taxation, water rentals, etc. are important to all areas of the province. I recognize that people think that IPP power is too expensive, the industry does not agree. BC Hydro does not compare the right elements and it can be done competitively. The cost of lost opportunity to BC First Nations and communities has to also be added into the true cost of Site C. And the ability of BC to keep up with the new technologies and be competitive is lost as producers leave BC looking for opportunities elsewhere.
CONSEQUENCE #2: BC LOSS OF CREDIBILITY
Another cost to BC is its loss of credibility as they are spending almost $9 billion on creating power that isn’t needed and have no buyers for that power. BC did not accept all 32 Recommendations of the Climate Action Team that would have led to increased electrification. They also do not require any LNG facilities to use electricity from the grid but may produce power from natural gas. There is no real electrification plan for BC.
BC could have created power gradually by utilizing renewable power as needed. The investment and risk of these projects would be in the private sector and would not be a government/taxpayer burden. BC would be open to new technologies as they come along. Already the price of solar and wind have come way down and this will be true of other types of clean energy. The provinces has stunted the growth of First Nations economic development in the clean energy industry and many First Nations are agitating to have the opportunity to do so.
CAN SITE C BE STOPPED?
Site C can be stopped with strong leadership. As an example of this happening before, Mark Eliesen, former BC Hydro CEO was Chairman of Manitoba Hydro and had planned a dam called Limestone that was even bigger than Site C. They broke ground in 1976-forecasts said they would need power in 10 years. 2 years into construction, they realized they wouldn’t need the power because the forecasts changed. The made the decision to stop the project and it was stopped for 7 years. While the project was on hold, Manitoba Hydro negotiated a 500 MW $2.2 billion power sale to Minnesota. Only when they had the contract in hand did they start building a smaller Limestone Dam. It is better to have suffered a loss of $2 billion dollars than to have lost $9 billion dollars or more. It takes a real leader to acknowledge this and make that decision.
Instead, Christy Clark’s government is going full speed ahead with a dam that has no market for the excess electricity. Eliesen considers Site C as a white elephant. So this will be a $9+Billion burden to taxpayers. Definitely slated to be a fast ferries fiasco on land.
In conclusion, the costs of Site C dam are more than the $9 billion estimated to build the dam- that cost does not take into consideration the costs above (loss of burial cultural and heritage sites/exercising treaty rights and ecosystems that support those rights/loss of FN opportunity to create clean energy, etc.) There are many costs of the negative impacts of Site C that cannot be valued. Projects like Site C should have to take into account all of the effects of the project by placing a value on them and adding into the construction/planning/development costs.
s. 35 of the Constitution Act, 1982 recognizes treaty rights. How can the government continue to abrogate constitutionally protected rights? The destruction of treaty rights that are already devastated due to oil and gas and the other 2 dams and other activities like mining. When does it stop and what will be left for future generations of treaty 8? Courts have allowed for infringement of treaty rights, but if the cumulative effects of many developments that takes away the ability to exercise rights-why have them protected and enshrined in the constitution?
The courts, UNDRIP, TRC, First Nations, have all called for principled reconciliation. The environment to begin reconciliation has to be one of respect and trust, at least, the willingness and belief you can work together. If none of this exists, reconciliation will not be possible in our life time. Governments chose developments over First Nations rights and objections all the time. This is what is most important to governments and until they really place a priority on First Nations rights and reconciliation will the battles stop. Federal and provincial governments have lost a great opportunity for principled reconciliation by not embracing FPIC and for continuing the colonial, paternalistic attitude that they know what is best for First Nations and for thinking they can get away with the way governments have always treated First Nations people. Sadly, Trudeau is no different from Harper and other Prime Ministers before him. The same can be said for premiers in BC. People in BC and across Canada need to fully understand the full costs and consequences of the Site C dam and what I have covered is only a part of that. The true cost of Site C is not worth the electricity it will bring.