Site C dam summit must explore whether B.C. needs a progressive party rooted in Leap Manifesto

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      Today and tomorrow in Victoria, critics of the Site C dam are holding a two-day summit to explore various options to try to stop the project.

      Organizers of the event insist that the $10.7-billion Site C in northeastern B.C. is not past the point of no return.

      B.C. NDP and B.C. Liberal politicians, on the other hand, want to go full steam ahead even though domestic electricity demand has been flat in the province for more than a decade.

      Some exceptionally bright minds at the summit are zeroing in on the white elephant that is Site C.

      They include former senior civil servant Harry Swain, Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives B.C. director Seth Klein, former Hupacasath First Nations chief Judith Sayers, author Andrew Nikiforuk, Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs vice president Bob Chamberlin, and West Moberly First Nations chief Roland Willson.

      While a legal challenge launched by the West Moberly and Prophet River First Nations could possibly stop the project, opponents of Site C can't pin all their hopes on that.

      That's because the Harper government spent a decade filling the superior courts with justices who passed its smell test. And if you want to know more about that Harper smell test for judicial appointments, I advise you to read this outstanding 2015 article by the Globe and Mail's Sean Fine.

      To put it bluntly, the courts are a crapshoot. More so now than ever before.

      It's also time to be blunt about the B.C. NDP.

      Many opponents of the Site C dam have been long-term supporters of the party. But on this issue, Premier John Horgan demonstrated that he and his inner cabinet circle haven't learned much from the 1990s.

      Back then, the NDP government consistently sided with organized labour over environmental interests when the two came in conflict. This was particularly true regarding electricity generation.

      The NDP government of the 1990s kept the carbon-spewing Burrard Thermal gas-powered plant running by spending a bunch of money upgrading it with combined-cycle technology.

      That same NDP government wanted to build a gas pipeline to Vancouver Island to power three gas-fired power plants, which were opposed not only by environmentalists, but also by lawyers representing senior citizens and the poor.

      The NDP government of the 1990s  also created the Columbia Basin Trust, which was financed with revenues from the colossally expensive Keenleyside power project. This was not subjected to a review by the B.C. Utilities Commission even though environmentalists raised an alarm about the plant's impact on fish.

      In those days, the NDP government would create parks to try to demonstrate how green it was. It didn't work.

      In the 2001 election, the B.C. Greens siphoned off a huge number of votes from the B.C. NDP, which was left with two seats in the legislature.

      It's worth noting that Christy Clark played a similar game. She supported fracking for natural gas, boosting liquefied natural gas exports, and eliminating any chance of meeting greenhouse-gas targets. But hey, she set aside the Great Bear Rainforest to paint herself as a green heroine.

      And guess what happened? A whole bunch of voters fled the B.C. Liberals for the B.C. Greens in the 2017 election. Clark is no longer premier.

      But for many long-term New Democrats who hate the Site C dam, switching allegiance to the B.C. Greens creates a problem. 

      That's because these erstwhile NDP supporters want a progressive government that respects the U.N Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. And they can't be sure they'll get that from the B.C. Greens.

      As well-versed as B.C Green Leader Andrew Weaver is on climate change, he'll never be a premier that long-time NDP supporters will cherish. Weaver can't match up to Dave Barrett, a beloved NDP premier who rocked the boat with revolutionary legislative initiatives to help low-income British Columbians.

      Weaver is a pillar of the establishment from the silk-stocking constituency of Oak Bay-Gordon Head. Just to cite one issue, Weaver has not been seen to be on the side of tenants in the same way as NDP politicians such as Spencer Chandra Herbert or David Eby. And why should he? Most of the people who live in Weaver's wealthy constituency are homeowners.

      Weaver was also a big supporter of former B.C. Liberal premier Gordon Campbell. He only moved to the Greens in response to Clark's escalating war on the climate, which culminated in her support for Kinder Morgan's pipeline expansion.

      It's worth noting that Weaver has spoken highly of B.C. Liberal leadership candidate Andrew Wilkinson in the past. And you can bet that if Wilkinson becomes leader of the opposition, he'll be trying to woo Weaver into supporting B.C. Liberal legislative initiatives.

      There was even a time when Weaver supported the Site C dam when Campbell was premier. Back then, Weaver wasn't demonstrating a great deal of concern for First Nations, whose traditional territories were going to be obliterated by this megaproject.

      You want more blunt talk? The root of the divide between Weaver and many progressives is class. He's an upper middle-class, high-income, market-oriented Green politician.

      There are quite a few high-income, upper middle-class, market-oriented Greens. It's why the party sometimes attracts a lot of votes in places like Point Grey, Oak Bay, and West Vancouver.

      It's one of several reasons why tackling inequality has never been a strength of the B.C. Greens since Stuart Parker was bounced out of the leadership nearly two decades ago.

      Horgan and his closest advisers are confident that class-conscious NDP supporters who oppose the Site C dam will have trouble supporting a Green party led by Weaver.

      But what Horgan and his advisers may not have considered is the possibility of a new party being formed as a result of their decision to complete the Site C dam.

      In fact, this is a very good time to launch a new, progressive, environmentally oriented party that puts climate change, combatting inequality, and respect for Indigenous rights at the top of the agenda. A Bernie Sanders-style party for B.C.

      The timing is good because voters across the province could support proportional representation this fall. That will transform electoral politics forever in B.C.

      PR, along with campaign-finance reform, offers a better chance for new parties to emerge to challenge the status quo.

      The Leap Manifesto, which was created by many progressives including Naomi Klein and her husband Avi Lewis, provides a blueprint for what such a new party could represent. 

      Here's a sample of what the Leap Manifesto encompasses:

      "We could live in a country powered entirely by renewable energy, woven together by accessible public transit, in which the jobs and opportunities of this transition are designed to systematically eliminate racial and gender inequality. Caring for one another and caring for the planet could be the economy’s fastest growing sectors. Many more people could have higher wage jobs with fewer work hours, leaving us ample time to enjoy our loved ones and flourish in our communities."

      Here's what else is held up in the Leap Manifesto: "The time for energy democracy has come: we believe not just in changes to our energy sources, but that wherever possible communities should collectively control these new energy systems."

      John Horgan and his friends prefer that a provincial monolith, B.C. Hydro, controls the bulk of energy generation. They don't appear to be fans of community-driven renewable energy projects, which could drive down B.C. Hydro revenues.

      That's the takeaway from their decision to complete the Site C dam in the face of a multitude of renewable alternatives.

      A new progressive party could put the brakes on Site C, particularly if this political entity held the balance of power in a divided legislature.

      The Greens might be the flavour of the month right now, but many of those who support the Greens are, in fact, simply sick and tired of the B.C. Liberals and B.C. NDP's propensity for supporting useless megaprojects like the Site C dam.

      Weaver has been far more interested in obtaining proportional representation than stopping the Site C dam. This was demonstrated in what Weaver settled for in return for keeping the NDP minority government in power.

      I suspect if progressive voters are offered a class-conscious alternative, you'll see votes hemorrhage away from the B.C. Greens.

      That's what the opponents of the Site C dam should be talking about at their two-day summit in Victoria.

      There's no sense simply reviewing why the decision was so bad. Everyone who's attending the event already knows that.

      The real question is this: what are the opponents of Site C going to do about it?