The B.C. NDP, the Site C dam, and the 2017 provincial election

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      The B.C. NDP has not always been the best friend of its federal counterpart.

      Even though the party is a federation with provincial wings, there's been tension between MPs and MLAs over certain policies in the past.

      Former B.C. NDP leader Adrian Dix wasn't comfortable with NDP Leader Tom Mulcair's support for rewriting the Clarity Act, which sets the rules for Quebec ever separating.

      In the 1990s, the provincial NDP government's decision to withhold social assistance to those who hadn't lived in B.C. for three months riled activists who were big supporters of then-NDP MP Svend Robinson.

      Now, the provincial NDP could be poised to provoke another rift by expressing support for the $8.8-billion Site C dam along the Peace River in northeastern B.C.

      The Straight has learned that this idea is being discussed seriously within B.C. NDP circles.

      Site C will harm agriculture

      The dam is opposed by First Nations, Peace River-area residents, and farmland advocates because it will irrevocably change the ecosystem and undermine food production. 

      A prolonged drought in California is hampering agriculture in that state, elevating the importance of this issue in the eyes of climate-justice activists.

      Meanwhile, the Peace Valley Landowner Assocation and First Nations have filed court challenges. (For a revealing look at how Peace River–area residents feel, check out Matthew Burrows's 2009 article in the Georgia Straight.)

      Here's the conundrum for the B.C. NDP.

      Leader John Horgan knows that if his caucus opposes the Site C dam, some members of the building trades are quite likely to vote for the B.C. Liberals. And the group of unions that represent these workers just might withhold financial support for the B.C. NDP to punish the party for not supporting this megaproject.

      Don't forget that Premier Christy Clark won the last election thanks to all those TV images of her wearing hard hats and expressing her support for the resource sector.

      Premier Christy Clark often wore a hard hat during the last election campaign.

      The union representing B.C. Hydro workers might also take issue with the NDP opposing the Site C dam if it meant that more private power projects end up being built instead.

      Moreover, if the caucus supports the Site C dam, Horgan will be able to present himself as a "builder" and promoter of economic development in the next election campaign.

      Supporting the Site C dam could open up the prospect of the B.C. NDP winning more seats in places like Williams Lake, Kamloops, and Prince George, where the party was clobbered in 2013.

      But a strong position in favour of Site C will cost Horgan the support of First Nations organizations, not to mention environmentalists who voted NDP in the last election.

      One of the first people who would condemn the party coming out for Site C would be widely respected Richmond councillor Harold Steves. He's a former NDP MLA who's rightly seen as the founder of the Agricultural Land Reserve, which is a cherished accomplishment of the first NDP government under Dave Barrett.

      Others would follow, including agrologist and former Vancity director Wendy Holm. She's claimed that the soil quality and climate in the Peace River Valley could produce enough vegetables to feed a million people.

      Greenish voters might abandon NDP

      If the B.C. NDP supports the Site C dam, it could jeopardize its seats in Vancouver-Fairview, Saanich South, Vancouver–Point Grey, and Powell River–Sunshine Coast, where a large number of green-minded voters cast ballots for environmentally minded NDP candidates.

      It's worth noting that one of the greenies in caucus, Vancouver-Fairview NDP MLA George Heyman, has already gone on the record with his concerns about the Site C dam.

      Such a policy would also alienate voters in the safe seat of Vancouver–Mount Pleasant, particularly if the party nominates a rookie aboriginal candidate who tries too hard to sell the upside of Site C to residents in the Commercial Drive area and in the Downtown Eastside.

      The Site C hydroelectricity project is expected to cost $8.8 billion.

      There could also be blowback in the upcoming federal campaign if the B.C. NDP caucus backs Site C.

      NDP MPs Fin Donnelly and Murray Rankin have solid environmental credentials. Nobody needs to educate them about the importance of grappling with climate change. However, their reelection campaigns could become more difficult if the provincial NDP publicly supports a policy that could have a terrible effect on the agriculture industry.

      Nobody really knows at this point if Site C electricity will end up being used to extract more bitumen from the Alberta tarsands. But you can bet that federal Green candidates will try to make this an issue. That could siphon off enough votes from the NDP to help elect federal Conservatives or Liberals.

      Other federal NDP candidates, such as former chief judge Carol Baird Ellan in Burnaby North–Seymour or former park commissioner Constance Barnes in Vancouver Centre, are among those who would have a tougher time if the provincial party endorses Site C before voting day.

      In the end, I expect that Horgan will end up backing the project even though the B.C. Liberal government exempted Site C from a B.C. Utilities Commission review. If so, it will demonstrate that the NDP hasn't changed all that much from the late 1990s when the interests of the building-trades unions repeatedly trumped the desires of the environmental movement.

      Last NDP government kneecapped energy regulator

      Back in the Glen Clark era, the party consistently supported costly energy megaprojects that created short-term jobs with nasty negative environmental consequences. That included upgrading the greenhouse-gas-spewing Burrard Thermal plant. There was also an ill-fated plan to build a pipeline to bring natural gas from the mainland to fuel three power plants on Vancouver Island. And extremely expensive electricity generation was added to the Hugh Keenleyside Dam. 

      In those days, the premier's office regularly undermined the authority of the B.C. Utilities Commission. Relations were so bad that government-owned B.C. Hydro took the provincial energy regulator to court.

      That's because senior provincial New Democrats ignored full social costing and integrated resource planning, which means evaluating the costs of all ways to meet future electricity needs when choosing which energy projects to support. That includes examining demand-side management, including conservation programs.

      Opponents of the Site C dam say that full social costing and integrated resource planning should have been a prerequisite for approving the largest megaproject in provincial history, but it didn't occur under the B.C. Liberals.

      Why would anyone think that the B.C. NDP would behave any differently in this regard?

      After all, the B.C. NDP critic for B.C. Hydro is Adrian Dix, who was Clark's personal emissary on the B.C. Hydro board when these earlier decisions were made to ignore the provincial energy regulator. And Dix's leader, Horgan, was chief of staff to former cabinet minister and interim premier Dan Miller, one of the last NDP government's most vigorous supporters of the labour movement.

      Déja vu election?

      It's amazing to think that the 2017 B.C. election could be fought over some of the same issues that drove that NDP government into oblivion.

      In the late 1990s, the party's environmental wing broke away in response to the influence of the building-trades unions and other organizations representing blue-collar workers. This gave the Green party sufficient momentum to prevent the NDP from winning the 2005 and 2009 elections.

      Then in 2013, Dix tried to thwart the Greens by opposing the proposed Kinder Morgan pipeline. The B.C. Liberals adroitly moved into the breach with Christy Clark's blatant pitch to anyone wearing a hard hat.

      If Horgan decides that it's better to join Clark in supporting the Site C dam in the absence of an honest review of all energy options, it will put a smile on the face of federal Green Leader Elizabeth May. And it may make it a little tougher for Thomas Mulcair to portray the federal NDP as voters' best bet for protecting the environment.

      Comments

      19 Comments

      Concerned Environmentalist

      May 14, 2015 at 11:07am

      Currently BC imports more power than exports power. Those imports are mostly coal from the USA. If we build site C, coal power will be replaced with much more environmentally friendly hydro power. Site C is also basically a giant battery which helps in the development of intermittent power sources such as solar and wind since hydro power can be quickly turned off and on. This could be BC’s largest contribution to the reduction in greenhouse gas emissions.

      This fact is often overlooked in the site C debate.

      Pamela Stevens

      May 14, 2015 at 11:17am

      Horgan is on the record that site C needs BCUC oversight before proceeding. He's not convinced it's necessary, in spite of his pro-dev, pro-extraction position.

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      Adrienne Peacock

      May 14, 2015 at 12:04pm

      Let's hope this story is way off base. Site C makes no sense economically or environmentally. The NDP should be front and centre opposing it.

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      SPY vs SPY

      May 14, 2015 at 12:07pm

      Folks -- Until we start an assault on Energy Waste and make Energy Conservation a National, Provincial, Regional and Municipal Issue and Priority - we will never have enough energy from whatever source.

      We need to start with a National Dialogue where any and every energy Conservation Idea is openly debated - Tax free Automobiles that get 40 MPH of better - Tax free LED Light Bulbs - Start framing all homes in Double 2 x 6 Walls (Zero Heat Loss) - Very high Yearly taxes on Gas
      Guzzlers.

      These are just a few ideas -

      I say Absolutely NO to Site C - I have flown over the area and if the Government can Forcefully Confiscate these Privately Owned Lands - Then why are the Ultra Right Wing Property Owners NOT Screaming???????????????????????????????

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      John Q. Publik

      May 14, 2015 at 1:44pm

      If the NDP don't support Site C they should just go ahead and disband as a party as they will no longer be relevant. They will have learned nothing in regards to the fiasco that was Adrian Dix leadership - his flip-flop on the Kinder Morgan project is widely credited for having effectively ended any chance the NDP had at taking Victoria from the Liberals. The reasons why the Liberals win despite their flaws is because they understand how important a strong economic policy is to the vast majority of voters.

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      Turducken

      May 14, 2015 at 2:19pm

      From Glen Clark's "Environmentalists are the enemies of BC" to Carole James's disastrous "Axe the tax" campaign to John Horgan's gung-ho support for LNG and possibly Site C, the NDP has shown itself to be only marginally different from the BC Liberals on environmental policy -- which gives BC voters limited choices. The Greens should be working to find strong candidates and develop workable policies and a kick-ass strategy.

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      Corporate Welare

      May 14, 2015 at 2:50pm

      BC is a Net Exporter of clean Hydro Energy we don't need Site C to meet future demand.

      Site C is for subsidized aka Corporate Welfare power to the LNG & Tar Sands (we export peak power to Alberta on a regular basis).

      Site C is to provide power to huge mostly foreign Oil & Gas Corporations and Sovereign (Foreign State owned e.g. Petronas, Malaysian State, Arab States and Communist China controlled Corporations).

      Why should we the citizens of BC subsidize multi billion dollar foreign Oil & Gas Corporations, Communist and Arab State owned and controlled Corporations?

      NO THANKS!

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      Xander Davis

      May 14, 2015 at 2:52pm

      No to Site C. It has been shown over decades that it is a needless dam.

      What about the Moran dam?

      Lets drop electricity use by raising basic rates with a huge $ step after a few kilowatt, say 250 kiloWatthours (kWh).

      Industry is using its electricity in wasteful ways and could generate power at site.

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      Martin Cavin

      May 14, 2015 at 6:50pm

      Burrard Thermal does emit GHGs, but as a stand-by plant for emergencies and winter peak loads its emissions are trivial. Let's compare it to the emissions of a typical BC "world-class" LNG export terminal which burns gas for liquefaction energy. Both the Liberals and NDP promote such plants as clean. Petronas is proposing such a terminal in Pr. Rupert. Let's also compare Petronas with a gas-fired combined-cycle power plant built instead of Site C, producing 5,100 GWh/yr of energy. Calgary completed such a plant this year (Shepard Energy) for only $1.5 billion. I'll compare nitrogen oxide emissions as well.

      GHG Emissions in kilotonnes per year:
      Burrard: 400 (running at full output 10% of the year)
      Shepard: 1,900 (producing Site C's energy)
      Petronas: 5,280

      Nitrogen oxide emissions in tonnes per year:
      Burrard: 85
      Shepard: 250
      Petronas: 4,400

      A lot of people get excited about gas being burned domestically for electrical production, but have no problem seeing it exported for the rest of the world to burn. The hypocrisy is astounding. Gas is a great interim solution for providing cheap reliable power until technology provides something better. And gas burned domestically doesn't have to be liquefied first.

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      Nick Ellan

      May 14, 2015 at 9:35pm

      That the BCNDP would walk into a trap this obvious worries me. After the BC Liberals trick Horgan into voting for Site C - demonstrating again that he doesn't understand what an Opposition even is supposed to do - Clark will jack up rates, blame the greedy union bosses at COPE 378 for the higher cost of power, and pledge to privatize BC Hydro in the 2017 campaign to Deliver Value For Ratepayers. It's all a tad predictable.

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