Adjournment Proceedings: Site C Dam

Elizabeth May: Mr. Speaker, I rise this evening to pursue a question that I initially asked on October 10. The Minister of the Environment responded to my question. It has been catalogued tonight under aboriginal affairs, but it really touches on a number of key questions. It touches on energy policy, environmental impacts, and first nations rights. The issue is that of the proposed Site C dam.

When I asked about this dam on October 10, the federal government had not yet rendered a decision in response to a joint federal-provincial panel that reviewed the project.

This is an extraordinarily large megaproject. Some people are perhaps not aware of it, but British Columbians certainly know about it. This project is expected to top $8 billion in costs. It will flood over 5,550 hectares along an 83-kilometre stretch of the valley. It is an extremely controversial project. The question I asked on October 10 related to the opposition to this project from Treaty 8 first nations in Alberta as well as from the Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs and B.C. first nations.

A few days after I asked the question, the federal government committed to approving the Site C dam.

I see that the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of the Environment is indicating that he will be responding to me this evening, and that is very good news indeed.

Here is the problem. The joint environmental review panel found as a matter of fact that if Site C goes ahead, there would be significant environmental damage that would not be capable of mitigation. As well, the panel found that there was significant damage to the exercise of traditional and first nations rights, including fishing rights, hunting and trapping rights, and other customary uses of this land. These too could not be mitigated. This runs directly contrary to first nations treaty rights and to rights that are protected through the Constitution. Furthermore, the nature of aboriginal rights in title has been consistently upheld in the Supreme Court of Canada.

Since the government approved the project, several first nations have now taken the matter to court, as have residents within the area. The Treaty 8 first nations, including the Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation and the Mikisew Cree First Nation, both of which are in Alberta, as well as Treaty 8 signatories in northern British Columbia, have launched lawsuits against this project. Their contention—which I think is unassailable, but we will see what the courts have to say—is that they were never adequately consulted.

Site C is simply not needed. Even B.C. Hydro admits that it does not have a need for the power that would be generated from Site C, at least not for quite some time.

The joint federal-provincial panel was also clear that the economics of this project are dubious and would put the Province into debt, and that the Province and B.C. Hydro failed to adequately consider other forms of cleaner generation, which numerous economic studies say would provide more benefits to British Columbia, particularly for the first nations involved.

It is a matter of respecting first nations that we say no to Site C.

Colin Carrie: Mr. Speaker, the hon. member’s question from October 10 deals with a matter that is now before the courts, so it would be inappropriate for me to touch on certain details. I can, however, use my allotted time to speak about the review process, the Site C clean energy project, and the potential benefits if the project proceeds.

Site C underwent a rigorous review by an independent panel that was jointly established with British Columbia. The environmental assessment met the requirements of both the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act, 2012, and the B.C. Environmental Assessment Act. As Canadians expect, we avoided duplication and delivered on our goal of one project, one review.

Public hearings were held in the Fort St. John region of British Columbia. The process included extensive, meaningful, and respectful consultations with first nations. The process drew upon federal and provincial scientific and technical experts. The process provided an opportunity for experts outside government to weigh in and provide a variety of information both for and against the project. The panel explicitly recognized the effective engagement of the public and aboriginal groups. The result was a thorough and comprehensive report that has informed the positive environmental assessment decisions of both governments.

The federal government is committed to making environmental assessment decisions based on the best available scientific evidence and to balancing economic and environmental considerations. This is what we have done for Site C. Construction of Site C would translate into about 10,000 direct person years of employment until 2024, and when indirect and induced jobs are added in, that figure climbs to 29,000 person years of employment.

This project would benefit future generations. Site C would support jobs and economic growth through clean renewable and dependable energy over the next 100 years. Over the life of the project, Site C would help mitigate the growth of greenhouse gas emissions in Canada by preventing the discharge of between 34 and 76 megatonnes of CO2 equivalent.

It is now up to the government of B.C. to make an investment decision. If the project does proceed, British Columbia Hydro will be obligated to fulfill specific conditions, including the implementation of mitigation measures identified by the Minister of the Environment. A failure to do so would be a violation of the federal law.

In closing, I want to remind the House that the legally binding nature of these federal conditions is a result of legislative changes passed by the House in 2012.

Elizabeth May: Mr. Speaker, the joint environmental review, federal and provincial, of Site C was quite scathing in its findings of the lack of economics in BC Hydro’s projections. It also was very clear that there was going to be massive environmental damage and loss of farmland. The report was anything but unequivocal: it clearly stated that there would be losses that were not capable of mitigation.

As to the claims that Site C is anything like renewable or green, large-scale hydro facilities of this type are specifically not included globally in terms that would be applicable to renewable energy. The State of California, for instance, in its definition of renewable, would not include a project of this size. This is a damaging non-renewable, non-green project.

On the other hand, a number of studies, such as by KPMG and a number of other economic think tanks, have looked at the alternatives in green technology and other renewable energy that could have been put forward instead. Clean Energy BC, as the Association of Independent Power Producers of BC, has made a compelling case that we do not need Site C.

Colin Carrie: Mr. Speaker, our government is protecting the environment while supporting economic growth. This project would provide thousands of direct and indirect jobs and provide clean renewable energy for the next 100 years. Of all the possible ways to generate energy, this project would have the lowest level of greenhouse gas emissions. The project underwent a thorough independent review and extensive consultations with the public and aboriginal groups.

I am amazed to see the member oppose this project. Maybe it is because she would rather see a job-killing carbon tax. I am not sure.