Wendy Holm: Connecting the dots—SNC-Lavalin, the Site C Dam, and continental water-sharing

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      Back in the day, as school kids, we studied propaganda as the hateful tool of bad governments. We are today immersed in it.

      Venezuela is a tragic example: a blatantly staged coup to gain access to the largest oil deposits in the world. Another example is the Site C Dam on B.C.’s Peace River: it makes no sense no matter how you look at it, yet it forges ahead. 

      In both cases, half-truths and lies have been weaponized as propaganda by governments doing a practised lap dance with big capital in return for a G-string full of campaign contributions. Pathetic.

      In both cases, the prize is natural-resource exploitation. In the case of Venezuela, it’s oil. In the case of Site C, it’s a much more valuable resource: water.

      Water is more valuable than oil

      Water has no substitutes. When you need water—for crops, for households, for industry, for fish and wildlife habitat, for tourism—nothing but water will do. Its value is limitless, and this writing has been on this wall for generations.

      It was back in the mid-1950’s that the U.S. government tasked the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) with ensuring that “America never runs out of water”. As the story goes, USACE mapped Canada’s water resources, with nine major engineering proposals being tabled. Every one relies on B.C.’s Columbia River to transfer northern water west of the Rockies and B.C.’s Peace River to transfer northern water east of the Rockies. Site C is the last dam to be built.

      To ensure that Canada could not stand in the way of such plans, trade agreements were signed: first the FTA, then NAFTA, and soon the USMCA—that stripped Canadian sovereignty over our water resources.

      Enter Site C. As a professional agrologist, I participated in the agricultural-impact assessment of the Site C Dam on B.C.’s Peace River and presented my findings as an expert witness before the federal-provincial Joint review panel as part of the Site C Dam’s environmental-impact-assessment process. As a journalist, I also explained the connection between Site C and continental water-sharing. Both were dismissed by the panel.

      My frustration led to the spring 2018 release of a book I edited: Damming the Peace The Hidden Costs of the Site C Dam.

      SNC-Lavalin scandal should be wake-up call

      If Toronto-based journalist Joyce Nelson’s Chapter 10 contribution to that book has been the sleeper in this story, the ongoing SNC-Lavalin scandal is the wake-up call.

      SNC-Lavalin is a Quebec-based global firm specializing in the development of water infrastructure. According to its website: "Our team has been designing and building…water…infrastructure for more than 100 years around the world."

      Follow the money.  If the value of water is limitless, the incentives to stay in the game are huge. In February 2015, the RCMP laid fraud and corruption charges against SNC-Lavalin Group Inc. for massive fraud ($48 million) and corruption ($130 million) in its procurement of contracts in Libya.

      This month, former Canadian attorney general Jody Wilson-Raybould resigned from cabinet following alleged pressure from the Prime Minister’s Office to shelter SNC-Lavalin by allowing it to enter into a Deferred Prosecution Agreementa "pay the fine, don’t do the time" manoeuvre that would rescue SNCL from a 10-year ban on Canadian government work if found criminally guilty.

      SNC-Lavalin has been one of the principal engineering firms behind the Site C Dam from the outset—the dam that sound economics, science, logic, communities, professionals, First Nations, scholars, international organizations (UN), and good public policy seem incapable of even slowing down.

      You’ve got to ask yourself why

      These waters are beyond murky. It is time to follow the money and examine the full implications of the Site C Dam. According to a just-released report from the C.D. Howe Institute, it’s certainly not too late to say "stop". 

      Sitting back and doing nothing is not an option.

      We owe it to our children and grandchildren.


      Wendy Holm is a retired professional agrologist and an award-winning columnist and author living and working on Bowen Island, B.C. Damming the Peace: The Hidden Costs of the Site C Dam (Lorimer, 2018) is available at bookstores and on-line.