Site C: When betrayal comes so easily
“Two things we ask of politicians are common sense and integrity, too often they deliver neither. They are more than willing to allow themselves to become captives to the private sector- at great expense to the public sector.”
It is a curse of modern social democratic governments that, on economic matters especially, they are inclined to let others tell them what is and isn’t allowed. This dynamic plagues otherwise progressive people who lack confidence in economics, and it is heightened when senior civil servants remain in place after a change of government—the same people giving the same advice as always.
In this month’s CCPA Monitor, Director, Seth Klein addresses the issue of decision making in government. Site C’s economic justifications unconvincing: It’s time we made decisions differently. It is an excellent and informative article.
The issue of government decision making goes to the very core of how we are governed, the quality of governance and the state of our democracy.
The debacle of Site C is mostly about betrayal and who is the most easily betrayed. Government is supposed to lead and be the arbiter between the public and private sectors. It is elected by the public and is custodian of the public good. It is entrusted by the public to deliver representative and responsible government. It also has the obligation to work with the private sector to build a strong vibrant economy to the benefit of all. In other words, a balancing act. Today the balance is not there.
The balance has been destroyed by the presence of neoliberalism, aka, the free market economy. It is the veiled hand, the ideology permeating our societies. It is the taboo word no nobody wants to talk about. All political parties practice it surreptitiously.
When it comes to a decision like Site C the public and private sectors have a lot of skin in the game. The public sector is asked to take on a heavy debt load for a long term project of dubious merit and to the sole benefit of the private sector. The private sector is the grand beneficiary when it wins a huge multi-billion dollar cost-plus contract.
The question then becomes who has the power to prevail? Who is going to win the favor of government decision makers- the public sector or the private sector?
One of the great weaknesses in our democratic system is that the public sector has a passive role, our only active involvement is at election time. There after, we retreat, entrusting government to act on our behalf. The private sector is constantly proactive with armies of lobbyists, in both Victoria and Ottawa, determined to influence government policy in their favor. Where the public’s relation to government is a trusteeship the private sector’s is exploitative and pervasive- even more so in an era of neoliberalism.
Two things we ask of politicians are common sense and integrity, too often they deliver neither. They are more than willing to allow themselves to become captives to the private sector- at great expense to the public sector.
On December 8th, 2016 John Horgan as Opposition Leader(and NDP energy critic) wrote a letter to British Columbians on the Kinder Morgan pipeline expansion. The first paragraph reads:
I am writing about an environmental isssue of critical importance to people in B.C. The proposed Kinder Morgan pipeline expansion is on the minds of many British Columbians, and I want you to know I am against this project. It is two risky for BC’s environment and economy; it threatens thousands of good, family supporting jobs that depend on our healthy coastal environment, and it does not have the social license it needs from communities like the First Nations to go forward.
On November 18th, 2015 , in a CBC radio interview Horgan scorned the idea of Site C dam and said an NDP government would shut it down. Prior to the recent election the party reaffirmed its opposition to both Site C and the expansion of the Kinder Morgan pipeline. Since the election it has reversed itself on both these issues.
The decision to go ahead with Site C dam can never be seen as a measured, evidence based policy decision. It was rigged from the outset by the Christy Clark Liberals. A recent Tyee article, by Andrew Nikiforuk article sheds a lot of light on the origins of Site C:
“The evidence is just so overwhelming,” said Eliesen, who worked in the industry for more than four decades, serving as chair and CEO of Ontario Hydro, chair of Manitoba Hydro and chair and CEO of the Manitoba Energy Authority.
“Why didn’t they accept the recommendations?”
Eliesen suggests that there was a “pre-determined orientation” among the premier’s inner circle to approve the dam for “self-serving political reasons that smack of old school politics.”
Horgan’s NDP has served only to perpetuate this corruption, ignored the overwhelming evidence against building the dam, and betrayed the public on two very significant issues.
Site C is scheduled for completion in 2024. Already over budget and behind schedule it may be another decade before it is finished.
There is much speculation as to just why it is going ahead. It may supply cheap power for fracking. It may supply much needed water to the tar sands, maybe another link in the NAWAPA chain to ship Canadian water to the parched southern US. It may just be a big white elephant- one dam too many. In the mean time it is a flush cash cow for the private sector and we can be sure it will be thoroughly milked, as the public sector is thoroughly defrauded.
Ottawa has recently announced it will be spending 185 billion dollars over a ten year period on infrastructure projects. If Site C is the example the public purse is about to be turned inside out.
Site C has little to do with government decision making and everything to do with corruption and incompetence. It is a betrayal so generously accommodated and unconscionable.
And so we limp along, badgered relentlessly by low-level boosterism from our leaders and eased on our way by wealth gushing out of the ground or dug out or cut down and pulped. None of these resources have put themselves where they are because of our intelligence. We have not imagined or created them. Natural resources are simply there. With gifts of fate such as these, civilizations are judged in history by how wisely or fecklessly they exploited the wealth that destiny handed them –Saul, John Ralston. A Fair Country: Telling Truths About Canada