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Posted: December 16, 2017

John Horgan isn’t the real villain in the Site C piece

“Perceptions” by Gerry Warner

Op-Ed Commentary

Perhaps Barry Lopez said it best. “To put your hands in a river is to feel the chords that bind the earth together.”

Unlike the famous author of Arctic Dreams and a host of other environmental and humanitarian books, the politicians who approved the killing of the last free flowing section of the Peace River this week probably didn’t even consider the intrinsic value of untamed rivers when they gave the go-ahead to the Site C dam.

The fact that the flow of the Peace had already been blocked by the largest dam in the province – the W.A.C. Bennett Dam – and blocked again by the Peace Canyon Dam obviously didn’t figure in their calculations. Nor did it matter that these two dams flooded thousands of acres of prime B.C. wilderness including the largest swath of rich agricultural land in northern B.C.

Destruction by the aforementioned dams also extended into Alberta where the rich waterfowl delta at the junction of the Peace and Athabasca rivers largely dried up and its feathered inhabitants were left to find a new place to live or die in their former wetland home.

Who needs birds? Who needs beavers, muskrats, moose and all the other critters that depend on wetlands? Man needs kilowatts! And he’s damn well going to get them regardless of all the living creatures that stand in his way. And what about all that carbon dioxide that’s going to escape into the atmosphere when the flooded vegetation rots away as the dam waters rise and the trees are cleared to make way for an immense chunk of concrete?

Let’s face it. The Site C Dam is going to be an environmental disaster! But this doesn’t matter to the politicians of B.C. – both NDP and Liberal – who approved it nor the people of B.C., many whom don’t care.

Actually, the foregoing statement isn’t completely true. The Peace Valley Land Owners’ Association certainly cares about the latest concrete monstrosity to be thrust on them and they have courageously fought the giant project for years only to have their concerns callously cast aside by the politicians. And to be fair, several NDP politicians, elected and otherwise, strongly oppose the dam, but so far at least, aren’t prepared to break party solidarity on the issue. Green Party members, to their credit, have strongly opposed Site C from day one and there could be political ramifications to this in the not-so-distant future. Unfortunately, the First Nation residents of the Peace, who have the strongest claim to the Peace River lands, remain divided on the issue.

But let’s be really fair about the Site C decision. If there’s a villain in this sad piece it’s not NDP Premier John Horgan, who nevertheless is going to have to wear it. Horgan, after all, was faced with a hellish decision, a no-win decision in fact. If he cancelled the project, he would flush $4 billion down the toilet and only have a hole in the ground to show for it. Who in their right mind could expect him to do that? If he did, he wouldn’t have enough money to meet the multiple needs of government. It was a lose/lose decision for Horgan and may yet destroy his leadership and his government, which is hanging on to power by a thread.

Oh, but there’s a villain in the Site C soap opera and that villain is former BC Premier Christy Clark, who was premier in December 2014 when the $8.8 billion Site C project was approved for construction under Clark’s Clean Energy Act, which exempted it from review by the BC Utilities Commission, the one agency that could have stopped it.

Clark, of course, expected to be premier when Site C began construction, but when she wasn’t she essentially left Horgan with a poison pill that could destroy his government – even his party – by allowing Site C to proceed. Politics is a nasty business, especially in B.C. where wild rivers don’t matter and as Lopez says, the cords binding us together have been pulled asunder.

– Gerry Warner is a retired journalist, who like Barry Lopez, loves wild rivers.

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