Cowboys and Indians keep gaining powerful allies in Site C Dam battle
by Damien Gillis - Common Sense CanadianBattle lines are being drawn and sides taken in what is shaping up to be an epic fight over the the $9 Billion proposed Site C Dam.
On one side is the “Cowboy and Indian” alliance, which continues gathering strength against the project, said chiefs and landowners at a recent press conference in Vancouver. The Peace Valley leaders were in town for a federal court hearing on their legal challenge of the highly controversial Site C.
Heavy hitters line up against Site C
While the alliance has suffered some recent setbacks, it continues picking up big backers. Early in July, the Metro Vancouver board overwhelmingly voted to call on Christy Clark to institute a two year moratorium on the project, given the lack of business case, demonstration of need, and consideration of vast impacts on prime agricultural land. The First Nations’ Leadership Council – which represents all three major Aboriginal leadership groups in BC – has also come out swinging for Treaty 8 and its allies, calling for a halt to planned construction while various court cases are in progress.
“The provincial government seems to have tunnel vision when it comes to building this project. Pushing ahead with construction activities at this time is premature and dishonourable,” said Robert Phillips of the First Nations Summit political executive.
“All citizens of BC should be deeply concerned; by denying the Treaty 8 First Nations their day in court, the government is making an outright statement that they are above democratic rights and the judicial system.”
Meanwhile, the BC Government and Service Employees’ Union added their hefty support to the First Nations and landowners’ battle against Site C this week.
“A recent report by energy analyst Robert McCullough notes that the dam would cost twice as much as alternative energy options like renewables and natural gas generation,” a release from the organization noted.
“There’s been a shocking lack of public consultation on the Site C dam,” said BCGEU President Stephanie Smith.
The B.C. government has refused to allow the B.C. Utility Commission to review the project, and no effort has been made by this government to consider other sustainable energy sources.
Farmers keep truckin’
“It’s a very strong coalition right now of the First Nations, the landowners, various NGOs,” said Ken Boon, a rancher in the proposed flood zone and president of the Peace Valley Landowner Association.
“It’s never been stronger and we’re really building momentum.”
This despite the recent dismissal by the BC Supreme Court of the landowners’ legal challenge. The group announced earlier this week that it will be appealing that decision, which essentially concurred with the BC government’s position that it is under no obligation to consider the findings of the Joint Review Panel – which was highly critical of the proposal.
These Site C opponents have recently hit a few other “speed bumps”, as Boon acknowledged at Thursday’s press conference. A pair of Alberta Treaty 8 First Nations withdrew their judicial review of Site C Dam after obtaining a commitment from Hydro to monitor downstream impacts. The McLeod Lake Indian Band also pulled out of the BC Treaty 8 challenge in the BC Supreme Court, while the Saulteau First Nation approved an Impact Benefit Agreement with BC Hydro related to the dam. And yet, spirits are high amongst Site C opponents, as they indicated in Vancouver this week.
Site C opponents raise close to $300,000
The groups have multiple legal challenges underway, with plenty of resources to see them through. After the Landowners’ Association raised over $200,000 from the public for its court cases, the BC Treaty 8 First Nations have garnered close to half that amount in just a few months of fundraising. And the backing of powerful organizations like Metro Vancouver, the First Nations’ Leadership Council and now the BCGEU demonstrates that the battle is spreading far beyond the Peace Valley.
Meanwhile, Chief Roland Willson of the West Moberly First Nations confirmed Thursday that despite the recent, rushed issuing of construction permits from the province and vows to get shovels in the ground this summer, little to no significant work has been performed. “They’ve pushed back their job fairs past after September,” Willson noted.
They’re puffing themselves up really big right now and trying to make things go forward, but everything is coming against them.
“The battle to save the Peace River is one of those fights that absolutely need to be won,” added Grand Chief Stewart Phillip of the Union of BC Indian Chiefs.
“As far as I’m concerned, this project is never, ever going to happen.”
Damien Gillis is a Vancouver-based documentary filmmaker with a focus on environmental and social justice issues - especially relating to water, energy, and saving Canada's wild salmon - working with many environmental organizations in BC and around the world. He is the co-founder, along with Rafe Mair, of The Common Sense Canadian, and a board member of both the BC Environmental Network and the Haig-Brown Institute.