Opinion

Four Decades and Counting: A Brief History of the Site C Dam

Arlene Boon

This is a guest post by Ray Eagle.

Many British Columbians may not realize that the $9 billion Site C dam, currently under construction on the Peace River, has a 46-year back-story.

B.C. Hydro began engineering studies for Site C back in 1971. In the early 1980s B.C. Hydro went before the newly formed British Columbia Utilities Commission (BCUC), created “to ensure that ratepayers receive safe, reliable, and nondiscriminatory energy services at fair rates from the utilities it regulates, and that shareholders of those utilities are afforded a reasonable opportunity to earn a fair return on their invested capital.”

In November 1983, the BCUC issued a 315-page summary that stated the dam was not needed at that time, while at the same time criticizing B.C. Hydro’s forecasting ability.

Tweet: “The Commission examined the methodology of @BCHydro's forecasting…” and it didn’t go so well in 1983. Or now still http://bit.ly/2nhohVbThe Commission examined the methodology of Hydro's forecasting … and concluded that, while significant improvements have been made, further improvements can and should be made to improve reliability,” the report read.

4 Reasons the ‘Oil to Tidewater’ Argument is Bunk

Oil tanker

Access to world markets for Canadian oil has been available since 1956 when the Westridge dock was constructed in Burnaby, B.C., and linked to the Trans Mountain pipeline.

The dock’s export capacity has rarely been used to its full potential in more than 60 years — yet the oil industry and politicians continue to make the argument that Canada needs new pipelines to get oil to world markets. 

Here are four reasons that argument doesn’t fly.

Four Things You Need to Know About How Coal Affects Human Health

Woman with respirator

By Benjamin Israël for the Pembina Institute.

In November 2016, the Government of Canada announced its intention to phase out coal as a source of power. Since then, many voices have misrepresented or questioned the impact that coal emissions have on Canadians’ health and our environment.

In order to clear the air, we’ve answered four of the biggest questions being asked about the link between an accelerated phase-out of coal-fired power and human health.

Cutting Through The Spin on Ontario's Electricity Prices

Transmission line

What do electricity prices have in common with the rain? Politicians don’t control either. However, hearing the Ontario Conservatives and NDPs slamming the Liberals this week for rising electricity costs and pretending they somehow have the answer, you’d hardly know it. But the fact is, Tweet: Any politician who promises low electricity rates is selling a lie — one we all end up paying for http://bit.ly/2myQ6WD #cdnpoli #onpoliany politician who promises low electricity rates is selling a lie — one that all of us end up paying for sooner or later.

Ontario’s electricity woes stem back to the late 1970s and, over the past 40 odd years, all three parties have had a hand in them. It started with the building of the Darlington nuclear station, which the Bill Davis Tories approved and the David Peterson Liberals saw through to completion — 10 years late and almost $12 billion over budget. No one could afford to pay the real cost of Darlington, so Ontarians carried that debt for the next three decades.

Over that time, electricity — like cars, and coffee, and just about everything else we buy — didn’t get cheaper, it got more expensive. And when the recession hit in 1993, and electricity prices were rising, people got angry. The party in power at that time, the NDP, did the popular thing; it froze electricity rates, halting investment in the power system.

We Need to Admit the Limitations of Science When it Comes to Pipeline Decisions

Winter Coast Salish Gathering. Photo by Zack Embree.

With federal decisions on major oil pipeline and tanker projects in the headlines, many suggest our elected officials should lean more on science to make these kinds of decisions.

Those exhortations sound very reasonable. But they reveal an enormously important misunderstanding about the role of science in making decisions on major resource projects.

Take the case of Kinder Morgan’s Trans Mountain pipeline and tanker project on the West Coast.

On one side, you have staunch opposition from the Tsleil-Waututh Nation and other coastal and Fraser River First Nations, West Coast municipalities like Vancouver, Burnaby and Victoria, and a sizable percentage of B.C.’s voting public.

On the other side, you have staunch support from Alberta Premier Rachel Notley, the mayors of Calgary and Edmonton, and a sizable percentage of Alberta’s voting public.

Tweet: 'Is one side simply too dumb to understand the science — or simply willing to flatly ignore it?' http://bit.ly/2ly7haN #bcpoli #cdnpoliIs one side simply too dumb to understand the science — or simply willing to flatly ignore it?

Of course not.

It's High Time For Canada to Address First Nations' Water Woes

Drinking Water

Neskantaga First Nation in Ontario has had to boil water since 1995.

We’re over 20 years already where our people haven’t been able to get the water they need to drink from their taps or to bathe themselves without getting any rashes,” Neskantaga Chief Wayne Moonias told CBC News in 2015. Their water issues have yet to be resolved.

They’re not alone. In fall last year, 156 drinking water advisories were in place in First Nations in Canada. More than 100 are routinely in effect — some for years or decades. According to a 2015 CBC investigation “two-thirds of all First Nation communities in Canada have been under at least one drinking water advisory at some time in the last decade.”

Water advisories vary in severity. A “boil water advisory” means residents must boil water before using it for drinking or bathing. “Do not consume” means water is not safe to drink or consume and a “do not use advisory” means water is unsafe for any human use.

BC Hydro Shows Trump-Style Attacks on Media Can and Do Happen in Canada

When Donald Trump held his first news conference this month following his election as U.S. president, observers worldwide decried his shameless attack on the media and his critics.

In an onslaught against the press, Trump labelled CNN “terrible” and “fake news,” lambasted the digital-media powerhouse BuzzFeed as a “failing pile of garbage,” then turned his sights on the BBC, calling the news outlet, “another beauty,” and refusing to answer a reporter’s questions.

Could something similar ever happen in Canada? You bet it could.

In B.C., a slightly abridged version of Trump’s scorched-earth offensive against the media and his critics is already underway, led by BC Hydro, with disquieting consequences for the principles of freedom of expression and freedom of the press. 

B.C.'s 150-Year-Old Mining Laws Are Absurdly Outdated. Guess Who Benefits From That?

B.C. was recently labelled the “Wild West” in a New York Times article for our lack of financial rules or limits around political donations. While mining companies and their executives regularly fall within the top donors’ list to the B.C. Liberal Party, they have benefited from this notion of the Wild West for well over a century. 

In fact, B.C.’s mining laws were created more than 150 years ago during the gold-rush era of the 1850s. These laws were largely created by miners themselves to help guarantee unfettered access to new lands by creating the right of “free entry,” and were part of the strategy to help settle the colony. Tweet: Today, mining activity is still given priority over virtually all other land uses in B.C. http://bit.ly/2kMIz5I #bcpoli #bcmining #cdnpoliToday, mining activity is still given priority over virtually all other land uses in B.C.

In fact, the process for staking a claim has only gotten easier. Are you 18 years old, have $25 and access to a computer? Click and you have a claim staked anywhere — on private property, First Nations hunting grounds, key tourism areas, important salmon habitat or wildlife management areas. Mining activities are off-limits only in parks, under buildings and at certain archeological sites. In other words, mining exploration can take place in over 82 per cent of the province.

It's Been 25 Years Since World's Prominent Scientists Released 'Warning to Humanity'

The longer we delay addressing environmental problems, the more difficult it will be to resolve them. Although we’ve known about climate change and its potential impacts for a long time, and we’re seeing those impacts worsen daily, our political representatives are still approving and promoting fossil fuel infrastructure as if we had all the time in the world to slow global warming.

We can’t say we weren’t warned.

Canada’s New Climate Plan Could Shift Billions from Highway Expansion to Public Transit

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, Premier Clark and most of Canada’s premiers recently signed the Pan-Canadian Framework on Clean Growth and Climate Change. ‘Framework’ is a good title for this agreement — it is barely a start on what is needed.

But it contains a policy shift that could dramatically reduce climate pollution from transportation.

Over the past decades the federal government has funded transportation infrastructure with little or no regard for climate pollution. They spent billions of public dollars every year on projects that increase climate pollution, such as urban highway expansion.

And since projects are usually cost shared, one billion of federal money is often matched by two billion from the province and region or municipality. Largely as a result of this perverse spending, between 1990 and 2014 climate pollution from transportation increased 32 per cent.

Trudeau’s first budget allocated new money to a public transit fund, which can reduce carbon pollution, but there was no commitment to shift money away from projects that increase pollution.

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