With new federal permits for Site C dam, Justin Trudeau appears prepared to kiss off prime B.C. farmland

    1 of 5 2 of 5

      North America has a serious problem with climate change. And the effects are being felt now.

      It's apparent in the California drought, atmospheric rivers that have caused massive flooding in Toronto and Calgary, and the lengthening forest-fire season.

      This year, parts of Fort McMurray burned down in early May. In May! Not July or August.

      But despite the demonstrated agricultural value of the Peace River Valley, the Trudeau government has granted federal permits to enable B.C. Hydro to proceed with construction of the Site C dam.

      Not surprisingly, this news has undermined relations with some First Nations who've vehemently opposed the $8.8-billion megaproject.

      "Rather than respecting the treaty rights of Prophet River and West Moberly and the legal process by pausing or even slowing down site preparation and construction, the Trudeau government, like cowardly, thuggish thieves in the dark, quietly issued federal permits before a long weekend to allow for the acceleration of construction,” declared Grand Chief Stewart Phillip in a Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs news release.

      The UBCIC news release tartly noted Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's comment about indigenous rights in all of his ministerial mandate letters: “No relationship is more important to me and to Canada than the one with Indigenous Peoples. It is time for a renewed, nation-to-nation relationship with Indigenous Peoples, based on recognition of rights, respect, co-operation, and partnership.

      Grand Chief Stewart Phillip (with his wife Joan) has been one of B.C.'s toughest critics of the Trudeau government.
      Charlie Smith

      The UBCIC vice president, Chief Bob Chamberlin, had this to say: “The eradication of 107 kilometres of the Peace River and its tributaries will destroy critical hunting, fishing and gathering sites as well as burial, archaeological, historical and cultural sites. The erasure of indigenous peoples' history and land use grossly violates section 35 of the constitution and the spirit and intent of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.”

      The secretary-treasurer of the organization, Neskonlith Indian Band Chief Kukpi7 Judy Wilson, likened Trudeau to his predecessor, former prime minister Stephen Harper.

      “Meet the new boss, same as the old boss," Wilson said. "How can indigenous peoples begin to trust the Trudeau government when they continue the business-as-usual approach of the Harper government?”

      Site C linked to LNG industry

      B.C. Hydro has defended the timing of construction. On its website, the Crown utility states that interest rates are "at historic lows" and "the slowdown in the oil and gas industry has increased the availability of skilled workers".

      However, B.C. Green party Leader Andrew Weaver has claimed that the project is a waste of money. He's also alleged it's being constructed "to fuel a pipedream LNG industry". Similar criticism has been levelled by the Sierra Club of B.C.

      Their arguments have been reinforced by the chair of a joint federal-provincial review for the Site C dam, Harry Swain. He's stated that domestic demand for electricity has been flat in B.C. since 2005. 

      "I think we're making a very big mistake. A very expensive one," Swain said in a recent Desmog Canada video.

      Residents of the Peace River Valley speak about the impact of the dam on their lives.

      In addition, Weaver has pointed out that the dam will result in the flooding of 5,340 hectares of agricultural land.

      Retired agrologist Wendy Holm is another prominent critic. She's claimed that fruits and vegetables grown in this region could meet the nutritional requirements of more than one million people per year. That's more than 20 percent of B.C.'s population. It's because of the combination of fertile alluvial soils and the climate in the area.

      "I know because I did the math. And the research," Holm wrote in an article earlier this summer on Straight.com. "The numbers were extracted from B.C. Hydro’s own figures, prepared for the B.C. Utilities Commission hearings into Site C back in the 1980s."

      Carbon bubble is bursting

      A year ago, former CIBC chief economist Jeff Rubin visited the Georgia Straight building to discuss his latest book, The Carbon Bubble: What Happens to Us When It Bursts.

      He predicted that Canada would become the breadbasket to the world because climate change was resulting in longer growing seasons north of the 49th parallel.

      In fact, NASA research indicates growing seasons on the Prairies are 26 days longer, on average, than they were 50 years ago, according to Rubin's book.

      B.C. could be poised to capitalize on these longer northern growing seasons if the province wasn't so eager to flood the fertile Peace River Valley.

      Former CIBC World Markets chief economist Jeff Rubin says farmland will generate a lot of wealth in the future.
      Charlie Smith

      Meanwhile, it's clear that B.C.'s LNG industry has little chance of success because of collapsing fossil-fuel prices.

      China's 30-year, $400-billion natural-gas deal with Russia has also deprived B.C. of a potential customer. Then there's the astonishing rise of renewable energy around the world.

      So why would Trudeau want to kick the Site C dam into high gear? If he thinks it will provide a long-term energy source for the Alberta oilsands, he's clearly living in the last century.

      That's because it's unlikely that such high-cost fuel will find a large market in the future as more industries, including automobiles, make the transition to being powered by renewable sources.

      New boss resembles old boss

      The Site C dam won't be completed until 2024. A lot can happen before then as the world adopts more climate-friendly energy sources.

      Former prime minister Stephen Harper liked to think of Canada as an energy superpower. And he geared his government's economic strategy around this.

      In this regard, Trudeau seems bent on going down the same path, as demonstrated by his eagerness to get the Site C dam built.

      Don't kid yourself: this is part of a broader plan to eventually get the B.C. Liberal government to consent to the Kinder Morgan pipeline.

      Once that's completed, it's estimated that 400 oil tankers per year will head out of the Port of Vancouver and through Burrard Inlet.

      Of course, that assumes there will be customers for all of this fuel. And that's far from a sure thing over the long term.

      Premier Christy Clark and B.C. Hydro chair Brad Bennett are pushing forward with the Site C dam regardless of its impact on farmland in the area.

      Under this scenario, Alberta premier Rachel Notley will get Site C hydropower. It enables her to claim to have reduced greenhouse gas emissions in the oilsands. This will be the justification to allow the Kinder Morgan project to proceed. 

      Christy Clark will get her Site C dam, so she can paint her political opponents as being anti-jobs in the May 2017 provincial campaign.

      And Trudeau can act like a nation builder and possibly increase the Liberal seat count in Alberta in the next federal election.

      Over the short term, voters won't realize that by the time all of these projects will be completed, there will likely be less of a market for Alberta oil.

      Over the longer term, B.C. will have given up a lucrative farming area just as world food prices are rising sharply as a result of climate change.

      It's a dumb economic policy ill-suited to the 21st century. But you can be sure it will be applauded on the editorial pages of Canada's national newspapers.