Does Andrew Weaver's response to Site C justify his removal as head of the B.C. Greens?
(Warning: This is a long essay.)
Imagine you're in the back seat of a large pickup truck and there are three burly guys in the front seat.
The driver, Rich Coleman, is taking you straight toward a cliff.
You're starting to panic but Coleman isn't interested in hearing your worries about what's going to happen.
He keeps travelling headlong into certain disaster.
So you shout at the other guys in the front seat. You demand that one of them take the wheel and turn this vehicle in a different direction.
Much to your relief, they hear what you're saying and spring into action.
The two of them, John Horgan and Andrew Weaver, drag Coleman's clutching hands away from the steering wheel and push him over to the passenger side of the seat window.
Horgan plops into the driver's seat.
Weaver is now in the middle seat. Unlike Coleman, these two know that they're headed toward the precipice.
You feel calmer because you trust Horgan and Weaver to make the right driving decision.
They're not stupid men. They won't send you over the embankment crashing into the gully below.
But much to your shock, Horgan keeps the pickup going in exactly the same direction. Then he puts his foot on the accelerator.
Naturally, you're horrified.
You cry out to Weaver for help.
But he leans in toward Horgan, assuring him that he's got his back.
Weaver tells Horgan that if he drives over the cliff, nobody in the front seat is going to try to pull his hands away from the wheel.
"I'll just sit beside you and complain about your driving," Weaver says with a wink and a smile.
With this, Horgan lets out a belly laugh. He quips that even his wife and his brother don't like his driving, but he's confident that any fears of disaster are vastly overstated.
Off to the side, Coleman mutters to himself, "I was right all along. These idiots are going to take me to my destination anyway. And if that yappy guy in the back is actually right and if I actually survive the crash, I can now blame Horgan and Weaver."
You're in the back seat feeling helpless about how to avert a catastrophe. You become enveloped with a sense of doom.
Site C damned by reliable sources
The passenger's dilemma is the predicament facing many sensible British Columbians at the moment.
They recognize that Horgan's decision to complete the Site C dam is the most financially reckless thing he could have done as premier.
Some have read former B.C. Hydro chair and CEO Marc Eliesen's devastating deconstruction of Horgan's fiscal claims about the cost of cancelling the now $10.7-billion Site C dam.
Others appreciated the fiery and eloquent denunciation from esteemed environmental writer Andrew Nikiforuk in the Tyee.
Then there are those who've been convinced by the straightforward analysis by Portland-based energy consultant Robert McCullough. He's a consultant to Peace Valley groups opposed to the Site C dam.
They've all demolished Horgan's claims that proceeding with the largest publicly funded megaproject in Canadian history ensures that British Columbians will have more public services.
Despite this, the premier's justifications are being parroted by members of his caucus, even though they defy common sense.
Who spends $9 billion on super-expensive electricity to protect B.C. Hydro ratepayers?
Yet this is precisely what the NDP wants its membership to believe. The true believers will swallow it but even NDP-leaning intellectuals, like the researchers at the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, are shaking their heads in shock.
Weaver, the leader of the B.C. Greens, has also written a convincing repudiation of the Site C dam.
He's been quick to point out that cost of this electricity will be far higher than that of power generated from other renewable sources.
B.C. Hydro's dams already offer the ability to store power, so there's no problem meeting peak demand, particularly when consumption is not going up.
Weaver also knows that the world is moving to more distributed forms of power generation. This means that large-scale electricity monopolies like B.C. Hydro will no longer call all the shots in the 21st century.
He recognizes that utility customers across North America will soon generate and store their own renewable electricity for use in peak periods.
This is thanks to great advances in storing renewable power, which will continue in the coming years. Authors David Suzuki and Ian Hanington covered some of these developments in their recent book, Just Cool It!, which focused on climate-change solutions.
Weaver supports a more distributed energy system. It provides resilience against extreme weather events and terrorism.
He surely understands that there's no reason why municipal and regional governments can't also become suppliers of renewable electricity in the future.
Yet the B.C. Green leader won't remove Horgan's hands from the steering wheel of government, nor will rank and file New Democrats.
A letter writer to the Times Colonist, Tom Palfrey, summed it up this way: "I think the NDP and Greens should hang their collective heads in shame, but I fear that they know not what shame is. They certainly have broken trust with me, but as a supporter, I obviously do not matter, nor do those others who dared hope that there would be a new approach to how energy is handled in this province."
Palfrey wrote that he's nauseated by the justifications for the Site C project.
"What has become evident is that there really are no alternatives to the status quo, as any political parties, regardless of professed intent or policies, will bend to the will of established entities intent on pursuing the tried and true ways of doing business," he wrote in his letter to the Times Colonist.
Yes, established entities such as Montreal-based SNC-Lavalin Inc., which was debarred from participating in World Bank-financed projects for 10 years in 2013 after a bribery scandal in Bangladesh.
Prime minister rode to SNC's rescue
According to a 2013 World Bank news release, "SNC-Lavalin's misconduct involved a conspiracy to pay bribes and misrepresentations when bidding for Bank-financed contracts in violation of the World Bank’s procurement guidelines."
This presented a problem for Prime Minister Justin Trudeau because SNC-Lavalin is a pillar of the business establishment in his hometown, which he represents in Parliament.
If huge Montreal-based corporations face financial difficulties—be they SNC-Lavalin, Air Canada, Bell Canada, Rio Tinto Alcan, Canadian National Rail, CAE, and others—this is going to attract Trudeau's attention.
SNC-Lavalin has been in the hydropower business for more than a century.
SNC-Lavalin and Klohn Crippen Berger were prime consultants for Stage 2 of the Site C project. This had to occur before the project could proceed to Stage 3 in the five-stage planning process.
The decision to advance to Stage 3 was based on a prediction in the Stage 2 report that demand for B.C. electricity will increase by 20 to 40 percent over the next 20 years.
"As extensive as BC Hydro's hydroelectric assets are, they will not be enough to provide future British Columbians with electricity self-sufficiency if demand continues to grow as projected," the Stage 2 report declared.
This gave the pro-Site C politicians in the B.C. Liberal party, including Coleman and former premier Christy Clark, all the justification they needed.
It didn't matter to them that a member of the joint review panel that evaluated the project, Harry Swain, concluded that demand for electricity in B.C. has been flat dating back to 2005.
The report by Klohn Crippen Berger Ltd. and SNC-Lavalin (both generous donors to the B.C. Liberals) was all that Coleman and his colleagues required to turn the ignition on the project.
Keep in mind that Trudeau helped SNC-Lavalin with its World Bank problem by endorsing the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank.
This entity was created by China as a rival to the U.S.-led World Bank on infrastructure financing. SNC-Lavalin might be debarred from World Bank financings, but it can bid on AIIB-backed projects.
Trudeau also helped SNC-Lavalin and other companies involved in huge public projects by creating the Canada Infrastructure Bank.
And the Trudeau government accelerated construction of the Site C dam by awarding federal permits over the opposition of First Nations in the area.
The Financial Post recently reported that SNC-Lavalin is "part of the lead design team for the project".
Indeed, powerful forces are driving the Site C dam forward.
Alberta could be the big winner
If there's not enough demand for Site C power, who's going to buy it after the project is completed?
Critics fear that B.C. Hydro will lose massive amounts of money selling Site C electricity.
That's a real possibility, given how things are likely to unfold in a more distributed energy world with far lower production prices for renewable power.
At the same time, Trudeau made commitments at the Paris climate conference in 2015 that Canada would strive to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
So what's likely to happen?
It's not far-fetched to assume that Site C electricity will be sold to Alberta at a deep discount, enabling the province to shut off its coal-fired power plants
This would help reduce Canada's overall emissions. This would also make the Alberta and federal governments look like environmental champions in the eyes of voters.
Alberta won't blink an eye because this Site C electricity will likely be very inexpensive if there's a supply glut.
That's being predicted because so much more electricity will likely be generated in the future by homeowners, businesses, and municipal and regional governments.
The big losers would be B.C. Hydro ratepayers. They will be paying enormous production costs, only to see this electricity sold for a song.
In other words, British Columbians will foot a very expensive bill and forgo construction of many schools and hospitals to make Alberta and the rest of the country look a little better to the rest of the world.
In return, B.C. will get saddled with the stinking Kinder Morgan pipeline and hundreds more oil tankers travelling through the sensitive waters of Burrard Inlet and the straits of Georgia and Juan de Fuca.
That poses a genuine threat to the tourism industries of Vancouver, the Gulf Islands, and Victoria.
It's a pretty raw deal for British Columbia. But it's probably enough to patch up the dispute between the NDP premiers of Alberta and B.C. over the pipeline.
And if Trudeau is in a charitable mood, maybe he'll throw in some federal chump change to finance a rapid transit line along Broadway in Vancouver.
What can a cliff-bound passenger do?
Now, let's go back to the passenger in the rear seat of the pickup truck.
He sees the pig-headed driver and his two front-seat passengers eagerly headed toward the abyss.
There's no hope of the NDP removing Horgan.
So for opponents of the Site C dam, there are two real options left.
First, they'll have to fight it out in the courts.
Indigenous people from the Peace River area can argue that the government's decision flies in the face of Treaty 8 and the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.
It's worth noting that the Trudeau and Horgan governments have embraced UNDRIP, as it's often called.
While some have suggested that this document doesn't have legal clout in Canada, that's not the view of one of Site C's opponents, Amnesty International.
In fact, at an Amnesty-sponsored event in Vancouver in 2013, Quebec lawyer Paul Joffe made a compelling argument that UNDRIP would be read into Section 35 of the Constitution Act, 1982, which recognizes and affirms Aboriginal and treaty rights.
Joffe presented this argument even before the federal and provincial governments promised to follow the 46 articles in this international treaty.
"The Federal Court said the following: ‘The Supreme Court of Canada has recognized the relevance of international human-rights law in interpreting domestic legislation,’ ” Joffe said back in 2013. “So right away, you can see there are legal effects.”
B.C. Greens could dump Weaver
The second option is for members of the B.C. Green party to remove Weaver as leader if he won't do everything in his power to stop the Site C dam, including bringing motions before the legislature and forcing MLAs to vote them down.
Weaver is prepared to sacrifice the financial well-being of B.C. Hydro in return for having a shot at achieving proportional representation.
Forget for a moment that proportional representation heightens the likelihood of openly racist parties gaining a foothold in the people's house.
Ignore the fact that proportional representation has contributed to economic chaos in Italy.
Don't spend a moment of your time considering how proportional representation has given extremist parties in Israel a foothold to demand that a series of prime ministers endorse West Bank settlements in return for their support.
Resist the temptation to consider the role that this has played in preventing a two-state solution to one of the world's most vexing and violent political disputes.
And reject the possibility that all of these factors might lead many New Democrats to quietly or loudly oppose proportional representation when it's put before voters.
No, let's just concentrate on the opportunity cost of Weaver's decision to go for all the marbles with proportional representation.
First off, will it work? Maybe. Maybe not.
But if it comes at the price of the financial well-being of the province's most important publicly owned company and the provision of important public services for decades into the future, does proportional representation become a poisoned chalice?
This is a question that B.C. Green party members may not want to consider after their historic breakthrough in the 2017 election.
But if they truly love this province and they truly believe that the Site C dam is an economic, environmental, and social abomination, they really have only one choice.
And that's to remove Weaver as their leader and install someone else who will stand up for B.C. Hydro ratepayers and the good of the province.
The B.C. Green Party does not have as large a membership as the B.C. NDP or B.C. Liberals.
Under its constitution, the B.C. Green Provincial Council can pass a special resolution to remove the leader.
Those with a vested interest in the advancement of the domestic renewable-energy business could probably muster up the numbers to present a serious challenge to Weaver—and their first order of business should be to take over the party's provincial council.
The members are elected at each annual general meeting on a rotating schedule.
If these renewable-energy advocates were joined by those keenly interested in advancing Indigenous rights and those who are mortified over the loss of farmland in the Peace River Valley, they might have enough votes to end Weaver's leadership of the B.C. Greens.
They could install a new leader who will take their concerns more seriously. Any number of possibilities spring to mind, including:
* Ben Parfitt at the B.C. Centre for Policy Alternatives
* B.C. Green MLA and deputy leader Adam Olsen
* Lawyer Rob Botterell, who's led the legal fight against the Site C dam
* Environmental writer Sarah Cox
* Indigenous lawyer Caleb Behn
* Writer and filmmaker Damien Gillis
* Former B.C. Green deputy leader Matt Toner
* DeSmog Canada executive director Emma Gilchrist
* Green MLA Sonia Furstenau
For now, Weaver is publicly huffing and puffing about the Site C dam. He's putting on a good show for the project's critics.
But the reality is that for opponents of the Site C dam, they're like the poor guy in the back of the pickup truck, fearing they're about to be hurtled off a cliff with Weaver's complicity.
That's because Weaver's in the front seat of the vehicle and he's not doing much of substance to force it to change course.
As Tom Palfrey put it in his letter to the Times Colonist: "We and our collective offspring will pay dearly, both fiscally and in terms of environmental degradation, in exchange for short-term jobs and the benefit and profit of corporations, public and private, their owners and shareholders."
He concluded his letter with this line: "Just look around and see the kind of world that has brought us, and shudder for the future."
If former broadcaster and politician Rafe Mair were still alive today, I suspect he would be calling for Weaver's head for trading precious farmland in the Peace River Valley for the prospect of proportional representation.
Mair would have said that on major public-policy measures such as Alcan's Kemano Completion Project or fish farming, the good of the province must be put before what's in the best interest of any one political party.
The Site C dam is one of those issues.More