Site C megaproject fuels election jobs debate in B.C. campaign

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by The Canadian Press

PEACE RIVER - Christy Clark used the Site C dam megaproject in northern British Columbia as a backdrop April 18 to campaign on the Liberal party's record on jobs and economic growth. The Liberal leader says the BC Hydro project under construction on the Peace River will mean clean energy and employment for the province.
Site C megaproject fuels election jobs debate in B.C. campaign

"We need reliable power, we need affordable power and we need it to be clean power," Clark said at a concrete company in Fort St. John. "And the only way to achieve that is through the Site C clean energy project."

NDP Leader John Horgan said he wants the $8.8-billion hydroelectric project sent to the B.C. Utilities Commission for a review on whether it should proceed.

The dam is two years into construction and has been approved by the federal government, but Horgan did not directly answer a question as he campaigned in North Delta on whether a review by the utilities commission could realistically stop the project.

Every project ever built before Site C underwent a review by the independent regulatory body, he said, and the public has a right to know whether there is a solid business case for it.

"I think the public, who have seen their hydro rates go up 87 per cent over the past 16 years, have every right to understand from a third party, the utilities commission, whether this is a good project or not," he said. "That's the commitment we've made and that's what we're going to do."

The NDP has long argued the project should be subject to a review by the commission, once standard in B.C., but the Liberals clean energy laws allowed some major projects to bypass the regulatory agency.

Clark said shutting down the project would hurt the province.

"They (opposition parties) have a reckless scheme that would leave British Columbia families and businesses literally in the dark."

Green Leader Andrew Weaver started his campaign for the May 9 election in Victoria on April 18, releasing a health-care platform that aims to promote wellness, emphasize prevention and primary care, create a mental health strategy, develop quality end-of-life care, and protect children. The plan would include $100 million for an integrated primary-care system using teams of health-care professionals, such as nurse practitioners, physiotherapists and midwives to enhance access to family doctors.

Weaver said shifting B.C.'s health-care focus from acute care to wellness and preventative care, along with his party's other measures, would make health services more accessible and affordable as B.C.'s population ages.

"Building a model that emphasizes preventative and integrated care and makes plans for the future will enable us to strengthen our public health care system and enable better health for all British Columbians," he said.

Horgan also announced an expanded apprenticeship and trades training program to help fill the 96,000 jobs that would be created through new school, hospital, highway and home construction.

"Apprenticeships are the best way to train the workforce of tomorrow," he said in a statement.

"With every school, hospital, highway and home we build, we will make sure there are opportunities for apprenticeships and trades training."

Clark said Site C has been a job creator for the province, with more than 275 B.C. businesses involved in the dam's construction.

"We need reliable power, we need affordable power and we need it to be clean power,'' she said. ''And the only way to achieve that is through the Site C clean energy project."

A new report by researchers at the University of British Columbia is calling for work on Site C to be suspended because it is now more expensive than other energy alternatives. The analysis says cancelling the project as of June 30 would save between $500 million and $1.65 billion.

"The business case for Site C is far weaker now than when the project was launched, to the point that the project is now uneconomic," Karen Bakker, Canada research chair in political ecology and director of the university's program on water governance, said in a news release.

"The good news is that we are not past the point of no return."

Clark said she hasn't seen the study but the hydroelectric project is about meeting the province's energy needs in the future and work has to start now to meet that demand as the economy grows.

"So if the electricity isn't going to be needed for 10 years, when do they expect us to start it? Nine years from now? Eleven years from now?" she asked.

"I think professional electricity planners in that field are better qualified to make the estimates about how much energy we're going to need in 10 years than academics at UBC who are probably not in the field of electricity use at all. We need to base our estimates on the best work of scientists who are in the field."

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