PVEA appalled over Campbell’s further stripping away of BCUC’s authority

For Immediate Release

Fort St. John, BC, May 6th, 2010:  Gordon Campbell is doing an end-run on democracy and good government. In football, an end-run is a play in which the ball carrier attempts to run around one end of the defensive line. Wikipedia lists a second definition of the term as “a manoeuvre in which impediments are bypassed, often by deceit or trickery.” The proposed Site C dam has been rejected twice by the BCUC, in the 70s and again in the 80s. Clearly, a new play was needed. If the regulator responsible for upholding the public interest gets in the way of your plans, just get rid of the regulator. So, when Mr. Campbell’s government released its Clean Energy Act last week, news that Site C would be exempt from BCUC review wasn’t a surprise to anyone following the game. Premier Campbell knows that the economics and environmental impacts of the project will never fly, so he wants to block public scrutiny.

Gordon Campbell might need a new quarterback, though. Energy Minister Blair Lekstrom can’t keep his plays straight. Mr. Lekstrom was quoted as saying “he will not wait for detailed engineering and environmental studies before choosing whether or not to proceed with the proposed Site C dam on the Peace River” (Vancouver Sun, 16 Apr 2010) and later claimed “that quote was taken out of context” (energeticcity.ca 18 Apr 2010). But that’s exactly what he has done. Despite long-standing geotechnical concerns about the ability of the soil in the Peace River valley to support a 60 m high earth-fill dam, Minister Lekstrom won’t wait for the engineering studies to be completed before charging ahead with this ill-conceived mega-project. School and hospitals are being sacked all around the province for lack of funding, yet Mr. Campbell’s team is trying to ram Site C through before confirmation that it’s even possible to build it. That is throwing in good money after the over $40 million worth of bad money has been spent on BC Hydro’s Site C pseudo-consultation process. And it’s our money he’s playing with.

Unfortunately, it’s beginning to look like Mr. Campbell’s game could be fixed with a little help from the Feds. A project of this magnitude – flooding over 80 km of major river valley, harmful alteration and destruction of fish habitat, destruction of SARA-listed species habitat, the damming of a navigable river that crosses inter-provincial boundaries — has traditionally resulted in a number of federal environmental assessment (EA) triggers. However, recently there’s been talk of regulation changes that would allow the federal government to substitute the provincial EA process in its place (Globe and Mail, 31 Mar 2010). The track record of the provincial EA process is well known — British Columbia’s EA system could single-handedly support a rubber stamp factory.

If Mr. Campbell fumbles his expected attempt to bypass the federal EA process, he will likely seek a harmonized federal and provincial EA.  Similar to his BCUC end-run, he will push for a process that has all effective regulatory safeguards for the protection of the public and the environment “streamlined” out, with no unbiased experts running interference for his plans.  Given the magnitude of this project and its substantial environmental impacts, the Canadian environmental assessment should include a full federal review panel that is independent of the provincial EA.  However, that will be up to Federal Environment Minister, Jim Prentice, to decide. The citizens of BC deserve some regulations in place to protect BC, even more so now that the BCUC’s authority has been stripped away.

With the provincial government openly displaying a bias to force the Site C play, maintaining both the BCUC and federal review process is critical to ensuring the interests of British Columbians are protected. Ironically, the citizens of British Columbia may have to look to First Nations people to carry the ball for them. This is one obstacle that Premier Campbell cannot remove.  Just as we are required to abide by conditions agreed to in modern-day treaties, such as NAFTA, the government of Canada has an obligation to respect the rights granted First Nations under Treaty Eight.  As Roland Willson, Chief of the West Moberly First Nations, has said “We will do everything we can to fight this thing.”  Premier Campbell cannot ignore the strong voices of the First Nations. And in the end, that will likely be the game-changer.