B.C. Premier John Horgan described the government’s decision on Monday to greenlight the Site C dam project as one of those ‘rock and hard place’ choices. He stated that he was never in favour of the project. He would never have started the project. There is not a good case for the project. There is a painful choice left between either cancelling or proceeding. He informed us that the choice is to plunge ahead.
I have my own rock and hard place in all this.
I’m trying to understand what motivated the decision to proceed with something openly admitted to be bad, risky and destructive. I’ve come down to two overall explanations. Either scenario is painful.
One scenario involves the government’s offered explanation: that cancelling the project creates a big expensive mess and a debt. It would be a hit to ratepayers. The cost would jeopardize other essential programs. We need to spread the costs over decades to come.
This explanation leaves me wondering about debt. How can a project with a very risky plan and a projected weak return on investment (as detailed in the BCUC review and by so many other economists and energy experts) justify a further penny? But it is not a penny; it is $8 or $9 billion more (at least) beyond the current $2 billion investment. What happens when interest rates rise on all this borrowed money? The mess is still there, just a much more expensive mess. It seems that the plan here is to keep our fingers crossed and trust it will all work out with magical future paybacks. Aren’t we just deferring the risks and debt to the next generation by digging ourselves into a deeper hole?
The other explanation is that the decision to proceed is motivated by short-term political strategy and by special interest groups who are pulling the strings. Another election looms around the corner…well… angry ratepayers are a problem. The optics are poor. On top of this, there are powerful forces that benefit from these megaprojects. They have been active to initiate the work and over these past months to save it. Alas, I grow weary with wonder about the state of our democracy and about how much integrity remains in government.
So I find myself between a rock and a hard place to understand. On one hand, the decision comes from simply ignoring the evidence and naively hoping for the best. On the other hand, it Is once again the influence of big money, backroom power, and rotten politics. Or it is a mix of both.
Either way, it’s a painful place to find ourselves.