B.C. NDP politicians justify Site C decision in personal messages to constituents

    1 of 4 2 of 4

      Yesterday morning, I wrote a column condemning the NDP government's decision to complete the $10.7-billion Site C dam.

      It's been the top-read article on this website for a couple of days.

      In the column, I questioned how Premier John Horgan could make the claim that spending this amount of money would enable his government to provide more public services and protect B.C. Hydro ratepayers.

      In the meantime, some NDP MLAs and cabinet ministers have been putting out their own statements on their website or Facebook, justifying the decision.

      To offer their perspectives, I've posted three of their statements below, starting with David Eby's.

      David Eby is the MLA for Vancouver–Point Grey and the attorney general.

      Thank you for calling, visiting, and writing to me about the Site C dam.

      As you know, for several years I have been a critic of the Site C dam project. The previous government’s enthusiasm for this hydro project failed to recognize the massive and disruptive changes taking place in electricity generation and distribution, proposed consuming billions in public spending for power demand that is at best uncertain, pushed ahead over the objections of at least one First Nation in the area, and shrugged at the destruction of valuable farmland in the Peace.

      Given that this megaproject was well underway in May, and that there was little transparency about what was going on at Site C, during the election we committed to send the Site C project for review to the BC Utilities Commission for advice on how to move forward given that the previous government had avoided any oversight to date.

      The Utilities Commission reported back to us, and to the public, that in their opinion terminating Site C and implementing a portfolio of alternative generation technologies would have comparable public and ratepayer costs to continuing with the Site C project.

      That was very hopeful news.

      In response, our government took the Utilities Commission’s information to experts in finance for analysis about what options were available.

      Devastatingly, at this stage we received unambiguous advice that while the net cost of the termination and continuation scenarios may be similar, the accounting treatment of the two models was dramatically different. In particular, we were told that if we abandoned the Site C project, we would incur an immediate $3-4bn public charge on either hydro ratepayers or BC taxpayers.

      In contrast, we were advised that if we continued the project, even if it went significantly over budget, the accounting treatment of the completed project as an “asset” would enable it to be repaid over 70 years by ratepayers with a significantly different impact on rates and public accounts.

      There were two options we examined in a termination scenario: funding the termination charge through public accounts (taxpayers), or funding the termination charge through BC Hydro (ratepayers).

      In either scenario, the real world implications of the financial advice we received were dramatic.

      For the first option, public financing of the immediate $3-4bn charge would mean $125-150m in new annual debt service charges, effective immediately on termination. This charge would eliminate  spending room for promised progress on childcare and many other government and public priorities.

      Public financing of termination would similarly mean that billions in capital funding currently intended to be spent on hospitals, school seismic upgrading, and other critical public infrastructure like transit would be consumed entirely with no matching asset created. If we proceeded with our capital spending plans despite incurring this charge, our debt rating would change as well, bringing with it additional increased interest charges.

      Leaving the $4bn charge with Hydro so ratepayers could finance it, with no matching “asset” was no better. This approach would result in an acute risk that Hydro’s debt would no longer be considered “commercial” by bond raters and/or BC’s Auditor General who has already cautioned about BC Hydro’s books which already overburdened by debt.

      If BC Hydro’s debt was no longer deemed commercial by analysists, this would result in BC Hydro’s entire debt being seen by bond raters and BC’s auditor general as government debt. The financial impact of that more than $10bn in debt moving on to public books overnight would be catastrophic for any hope of building the kind of province we need to build.

      The decision to proceed with the Site C project taken by our government today is not a happy one.

      The strategies of the previous government to avoid oversight and push the project “past the point of no return” with the hope, achieved, of visiting financial ruin on the books of any government that would seek to cancel it, are unforgivable.

      Thank you for writing to me about this important issue. I brought your voice to Victoria to speak against the project, and in favour of terminating. However, the costs of termination were ultimately too high for a government committed to making life better and more affordable for British Columbians. I hope that, while you may not agree with the decision, you may now understand how it was reached.

      Yours truly,

      David Eby

      Bowinn Ma is the MLA for Vancouver-Lonsdale and the parliamentary secretary for TransLink.

      Dear Community --

      I know that the recent news about Site C will be extremely upsetting for many people. Me and my colleagues share your grief. The gravity of this decision did not escape us. Our caucus is full of people who have fought against this project for years, attending rallies and protests and speaking out against it as the BC Liberals rammed the project through, trying desperately to push it past the point of no return.

      More than a few tears were shed as even we, as ardent critics of the project for years, came to face reality of the situation as it stands today: To stop this terrible project we agree never should have been started in the first place would take the people of BC farther away from the affordability they desperately needed and to absorb the debt in one foul swoop would cost us the ability to build anything else our province required for years.

      In the end...We chose affordability. We chose housing. We chose schools. We chose hospitals. We chose transit. We chose childcare.

      In the months leading up to this announcement, I have received many communications that made it clear that our failure to stop this project would cost us votes, volunteers, donations, memberships. I have read each one. There is no question that this community is made up of very passionate people.

      The bottom line, however, is that this decision wasn't about votes, volunteers, donations, or memberships. It was about governing on behalf of the people of BC and making the tough calls that governments must make -- even when it costs us politically. That's what good governments do: They weigh the options carefully, they make the difficult choices, they explain their decisions in good faith, they take the hits.

      Good governments don't make calls for pure political gain – that was the BC Liberal way, not ours.

      Many voters may decide to punish us for the announcement made today, but we didn’t go into politics to be loved. We are here to do the hard work that needs to be done on behalf of the people of this province and through our shared grief I continue to be committed to doing this each and every day.

      Always in your service,

      Bowinn Ma, MLA
      North Vancouver-Lonsdale

      Shane Simpson is the MLA for Vancouver-Hastings and the minister of social development and poverty reduction.
      Stephen Hui

      The Site C decision of our government has been frustrating and deeply disappointing for many people in British Columbia and in Vancouver Hastings. It was a decision that was extremely difficult for the premier and the entire NDP caucus. It was not made easily and it was not without heartfelt emotion and passion at the caucus table.

      This is a project that would not have been considered by our government if the discussion was beginning today. That, unfortunately, was not our reality. The previous BC Liberal government moved forward on Site C with no due diligence including refusing to send it to the BC Utilities Commission. They stated their intention to get the project past the point of no return before last May’s election.

      The premier’s commitment during the campaign was to send the project to the BCUC. We followed up the report from BCUC with expert opinions from many on both sides of the issue. The cabinet and caucus spent many days struggling with a decision.

      There were many perspectives around energy needs, achieving our climate objectives and the role of other renewables in those equations. Those discussions will be ongoing as we move forward.

      There was also significant discussions with First Nations including Ministers going to Northeast BC to meet with all the directly impacted Nations. Those discussions, government to government, continue today.

      The most immediate and definitive issue in front of us was the financial implications. We came to power with an aggressive agenda to make life more affordable, improve services and create jobs. That means an agenda to build childcare, build housing, build schools and health care facilities. To reduce poverty and inequality. To invest in people and communities. The decision to shut down Site C was one that would seriously impede our ability to meet those objectives.

      Shutting down Site C would cost some $4 billion. This could be absorbed one of two ways. If it remained BC Hydro debt it would require upwards of a 12% rate increase. If it moved directly on to government books it would take away significant capital spending room and add about $150 million to annual debt servicing. It would also increase pressure on the province’s credit rating. Building Site C means BC Hydro can amortize the project over 70 Year’s as self financing debt. This greatly reduces the impact on ratepayers and mitigates the potential impact on provincial coffers.

      The decision, that neither I nor any of my colleagues wanted to make, but sadly were faced with, was that we could not compromise that broader government agenda by saying no to Site C. The BC Liberals vowed to get Site C past the point of no return regardless of the costs. They succeeded.

      I am not happy with this decision. However, I do support it as the right decision in a very difficult situation. I very much understand the disappointment, frustration and anger of many British Columbians and of many of our supporters. I respect your passion and commitment on this issue. It is likely the most difficult decision I and my colleagues have faced in my 12 years in office.

      Thank you for taking the time to read this.

      Shane Simpson