Love it or hate it, former B.C. premier Christy Clark was right—the massive, and controversial, Site C hydro dam project really was “beyond the point of no return.”
Her successor, NDP Premier John Horgan, made that clear Monday. He said he didn’t want to do it, but when faced with a $4 billion bill his new government would have had to swallow for work already done, site remediation and to get out of contracts already signed, he left project on the table.
To the chagrin of many in his party and B.C. Green Party leader Andrew Weaver, who has already started making noise about recalling the environment minister over the decision, Horgan gave the project the green light to continue. Oh, and by the way, the project has a new price tag for completion: $10.5 billion.
Clark had said she wanted the mega project on the Peace River in Northern B.C. to be so far along Horgan could not cancel it if his party wrestled power from hers following last May’s squeaker of a provincial election. When the NDP did just that, and sent the project to the B.C. Utilities Commission for study, many thought the end was nigh for Site C. After all, Horgan had railed against it while in opposition.
The B.C. Liberals were wringing their hands saying the project was as good as dead under the NDP and that was making a huge mistake. On Monday, they were applauding.
A funny thing happened to Horgan on his way to the legislature. He discovered that governing is very different from being in opposition. In opposition, the realities of life can be suspended when it comes to criticism and arguing against something the government of the day is doing. But when you are the one responsible for the making the decisions that matter, standing on principle can be a slippery surface.
Horgan said he was not willing to burden this generation of British Columbians, and the next, with the $4 billion bill for a project that would not see the light of day. So Site C goes ahead.
It’s unlikely, however, that Weaver and his two other B.C. Green MLAs, whose support is keeping the NDP in power, will pull the plug on the government over the issue. But to say they‘re unhappy would be an understatement. Election reform and the killing of Site C appeared to be the two big issues the Greens hoped to see happen as a result of their support for the NDP.
Election reform could still happen—that will be up to the voters in a referendum next year—but the death of Site C was, to quote Mark Twain “a great exaggeration.”
Horgan was stuck in a no-win situation. But he did deal early with what many believe was be the biggest decision he’ll face as premier during the current mandate.
Now he has to hope the old adage about voters having short memories is true.
Alistair Waters is the assistant editor of the Capital News.