Rita Wong: Connecting the dots between the B.C. budget and a solidarity economy

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      Some wonderful things happened with the B.C. budget this February, thanks to the NDP: tuition waivers for former youth in care will support access to education; equitable access to legal aid (gutted by the B.C. Liberals) is increasing; and a billion dollars are being added over the next three years to support childcare, for instance.

      Yet this $1 billion is only half of the $2 billion that was added to the budget for the Site C Dam, a project that could bankrupt B.C. Hydro and lead the province toward a path of privatizing its assets due to fiscal mismanagement. This will be obvious by 2025, when the dam’s $12- or $15- or $20-billion debt gets added to our Hydro bills, and it should have been obvious to our government even now, given how we had knowledgeable MLAs on this file, I had thought.

      The people-friendly direction of this provincial government is being undermined by the big debt bomb that did not get defused by the budget. Instead, we saw the bomb get bigger through a $2-billion increase to the Site C Dam in December 2017, with no explanation. I expect it will be the first of many more such increases given how Hydro keeps changing the plans for the dam.

      The most recent expensive changes include an increase to excavate an additional 2.35 million cubic metres of soil, clay, and shale (for a total of 11.1 million cubic metres at the dam site that was not previously planned. We can see from Muskrat Falls what happens when the debt bomb goes off: goodbye tuition waivers, legal aid, and equitable childcare access. All blown up by poor judgement. Hello austerity.

      The farmers and First Nations up north are not merely “a handful of people” that John Horgan can throw under the bus. With climate change and a looming need for food security and ecological intelligence, they are important indicators of our future. What happens to them happens to the rest of B.C. If we respect the people of the Peace River Valley, we have a chance at a strong, healthy province in years to come.

      Degrading a key watershed that flows to the Arctic Ocean at the very time we need to be ramping up our protection of it only increases the chances of accelerating climate destabilization. The Peace River—named after a historic peace accord between the Cree and the Dunneza—is culturally, economically, environmentally, and spiritually crucial. It is key to the food security, equity, and the reconciliation we need to be building in these times.

      It has been depressing to watch Horgan attempt to trade off one issue for another while permitting and enabling the debt bomb to keep ticking away. It is disturbing that B.C. would not respect an old (signed in 1899) treaty like Treaty 8 and would, instead, wilfully violate Indigenous people’s rights to hunt and fish when the B.C. Utilities Commission has identified better or equivalent options that B.C. has in order to generate renewable power.

      The Treaty 8 First Nations do not have such options. There is nowhere left for them to go if their sacred burial sites, hunting grounds, and medicinal areas are clearcut and flooded. If this is how B.C. approaches treaty rights, why on earth would anyone ever sign a treaty?

      I hope this government corrects its mistake on Site C before it is too late and the situation, predictably, worsens, at which point voters will hold the NDP responsible for this disaster instead of the Liberals. With lengthy and expensive legal battles looming, for instance, the province should not oppose the injunctions that the West Moberly and Prophet River First Nations are seeking.

      If there is any party that understands the importance of solidarity with people who have historically been oppressed by colonial and capitalist powers, it should have been the NDP. Unfortunately, when it betrayed B.C.’s best interests by going along with Liberal manipulation of Site C, it sent a message that it cannot be trusted to truly and consistently work for justice, peace, and equality. When the provincial government stands up to protect the coast from Kinder Morgan’s expansion, I am grateful, but in the back of my mind, I wonder why it doesn’t act in a principled manner and apply this basic respect to the Peace Valley’s water guardians too.

      Perhaps the problem is what we imagine to be “economy”. If the economy is only based on increasing GDP and monetary transactions, no matter how harmful they are to human health and community well-being, then it will be the driver to mass extinction. Thankfully, other definitions of economy exist, such as the one Penn Loh proposes, that "economy is all the ways that we meet our material needs and care for each other”.

      A solidarity economy is the economy of the future. This is an economy that understands and responds intelligently to our interconnectedness through air, land, and water. When we understand that water is life, we see the connections between the fights against Kinder Morgan, the fish farms, the dams, and fracking as one united force to build an economy based on human health and well-being that, in turn, relies on a baseline of respect for land and environment.

      On March 26, when the Blueberry River First Nations court case begins, people in Vancouver are organizing a Peace River Solidarity Night to raise funds to support the efforts to protect the Peace. These efforts include the West Moberly and Prophet River First Nations’ valiant legal battle focused on protecting the Peace Valley from Site C,  the steadfast work of Ken and Arlene Boon through the Peace Valley Landowners Association, and the aforementioned Blueberry River First Nation court case, which will address the cumulative impacts of fracking, dams, and other intrusions onto their traditional territories.

      Such efforts are a big "Yes" to the solidarity economy that we need in order to live respectfully within the Earth’s carrying capacity, an economy that knows how to say, "Enough, Peace matters."