Debate in the B.C. Legislature during Question Period on Wednesday, Nov. 1, 2017 between Peace River South MLA M. Bernier (BC Liberal), Peace River North MLA Dan Davies (BC Liberal) and Deputy Premier Carole James on the Site C report:
M. Bernier: British Columbia is in the midst of the largest infrastructure project in provincial history. And the choice now is front of the government. As of today, are we going to write off $4 billion? Are we going to break contracts and end up with nothing? Or are we going to choose to ensure that we have a guaranteed supply of clean, renewable and firm power going forward for at least another 100 years and for generations to come?
I know the report just came out today, so I don’t expect nor will I ask for a government to make a decision today, after they’ve put this review forward that was for only six weeks. But I will ask, since…. I won’t ask the Minister of Energy and Mines, so I will ask the Deputy Premier. I think it’s a fair request. I think it’s an easy request. Government made a commitment that, once the report came out, a decision would be made.
What I’m asking today of the Deputy Premier and of government is: can we have a commitment that a decision will be made for the province, for the people in B.C., by the end of November?
Hon. C. James: Thank you to the member. The member can anticipate that a government decision will arrive by the end of the year.
Mr. Speaker: The member for Peace River South on a supplemental.
M. Bernier: That’s unfortunate to hear, because commitments were made that, once the report came out, that a decision would be made — a decision would be made for the future of this province.
We need to remember that we have large hydroelectric projects that have been built in the province of British Columbia that have allowed us to have energy stability and sustainability. Site C is one of those projects that’s going to make sure that for generations to come, we continue to have cheap, reliable, clean, firm power in the province of British Columbia.
Site C was reviewed for almost eight years by third-party independent people. In fact, it had provincial environmental assessments, federal environmental assessments done — all that were granted permits to build Site C.
This government decided that they wanted to have a six-week review of this project and make a decision. The Premier himself said that they would make a decision right after this report was released. I think it is a very reasonable request to it say by the end of this month — four weeks. Yes, it is 400 pages. We should be able to have that read in a couple of days and a decision be made. This is not a surprise to government. They asked for this review to be done. Obviously, they were anticipating what it would say and should be able to make a decision.
Again, to the Deputy Premier, all we’re asking for is for certainty in the province and a decision to be made. I think four weeks is quite realistic and am asking for that to be confirmed today.
Hon. C. James: I just want to remind the member and remind people on that side of the House that the reason we’re at this place is because the previous government didn’t live up to their responsibility. The previous government, in fact, refused to send the decision around Site C to the independent utilities commission put in place in this province to do that due diligence. It is the previous side that, in fact, started construction without proper regulatory oversight. That was irresponsible, and it was wrong, and we have righted that wrong by sending Site C to the B.C. Utilities Commission, as should have been done in the first place.
We will take a look at the report. We will do our analysis. We will ensure that we take the time that is needed to make the right decision for British Columbians, as should have been made in the first place.
Mr. Speaker: The member for Peace River South on a second supplemental.
M. Bernier: Again, the province of British Columbia is the envy of almost every jurisdiction in North America, because governments have stood up and made bold, strong decisions to ensure that we have energy stability in the province for generations to come. That is what’s happened in the past. That’s what government is trying to do, making sure for the next 100 years, we continue to have cheaper, reliable, firm power in the province of British Columbia.
Unfortunately, in this situation now, we’ve created more uncertainty. We need to ensure, because we know there is a lot at stake. We have thousands of jobs at stake. Obviously, this new government wants to let them know at Christmastime what their futures will be. We have company’s futures at stake. We have existing contracts with First Nations that are at stake.
People deserve to know. To say we’re going to let them know in a couple more months and continue that uncertainty is unfair to the people working at the site, to the companies and to the local First Nations who rely on this work.
Will the Deputy Premier easily say yes or no? All we need to do is have four weeks, which we think is reasonable — by the end of November, a decision to be made, so the people of British Columbia know.
Hon. C. James: The only uncertainty created with this project was created by the other side, by exactly that side, by not sending it to the independent B.C. Utilities Commission so that due diligence could have been done on behalf of ratepayers in British Columbia. They refused. The other side refused to allow the independent watchdog to examine the project, to determine if it was in the public interest.
We are going to take the time to fully review the BCUC’s findings. We’re going to ensure that we engage further with First Nations. We will make the right decision on behalf of ratepayers and British Columbians.
D. Davies: I want to first of all start by saying and sending out a big thank-you to all of the workers that are working right now, that have worked on the B.C. Hydro clean energy project, for the job well done thus far. Thank you.
This project is of particular interest to me. Of course, first of all, it is a mere seven kilometres from my hometown of Fort St. John, and it’s also the single-largest employment project in my riding. There’s nobody doubting the magnitude of this project and the size. It is the single largest infrastructure project in British Columbia.
So presumably the government has done their due diligence, as well as examined all of the implications involved in the decisions that is before them now, including the additional costs that are outside of the purview of the BCUC report. Just recently, we’ve learned that the McLeod Lake Indian Band had said that they would be entitled to reparations if Site C did not go ahead.
We also know that Site C will result in a total of $40 million in tax revenues to the local government. As well, the Peace River agreement, also signed with local governments in the region, is worth over $1 billion. And there are more.
Can the, I guess, Deputy Premier answer the question and provide to this House what other analysis has been done for the additional costs that are at stake, should this project be cancelled?
Hon. C. James: We certainly recognize that this impacts a lot of people. We thank the BCUC for the work they did. They received more than 600 submissions. They conducted public consultations. We thank everyone who took time to go through this process. We will do thorough analysis, and we will make the best decision on behalf of British Columbians.
Mr. Speaker: Member for Peace River North on a supplemental.
D. Davies: This is a choice, and this is a choice that’s got to be made between the government writing off over $4 billion, unilaterally ripping up contracts and other agreements, versus having a guaranteed supply of clean, renewable energy.
But this isn’t just about the billions of dollars that are going to be thrown away down the toilet. This is about the thousands of dollars that that the individuals that are working and providing for their families, the people who depend on this project, to the thousands of dollars that the individual businesses in my riding rely on to make a living…. Right now, due to the uncertainty, people don’t know what’s going on, and their lives are on hold.
These workers and their families deserve to know if they are going to be able to put food on their tables as they head into the holiday season. I can tell the minister and the Premier what the decision should be, but at the very least, can the Deputy Premier at least commit to deciding by the end of this month, so that people have some sort of certainty as they head into the holiday season?
Hon. C. James: It’s rich to hear members on the other side talk about ripping up contracts. I think teachers and health care workers in this province might have something to say about that when it comes to the other side and what they did to employees in our province.
I will say it again. The only reason there’s uncertainty on this project is because the other side refused to have independent oversight on Site C. We corrected that, and we’re going to make the right decision on behalf of British Columbians.
Source: BC Hansard (Transcript, draft)