Today I received a letter from Premier Clark in which she requested I respond to questions regarding the construction of the Site C Dam.
Premier Clark’s letter follows one sent last week by John Horgan, leader of the B.C. NDP, to Jessica McDonald, President and CEO of B.C. Hydro, requesting the delay of the destruction of two homes pending future review of the Site C Dam by the B.C. Utilities Commission.
Last week, I signed a Confidence and Supply Agreement, indicating that the B.C. Green Caucus would support confidence and supply measures introduced by a potential B.C. NDP minority government. As part of the agreement, both parties agreed that the Site C Dam construction project should be referred to the BC Utilities Commission on the question of economic viability and consequences to British Columbians in the context of the current supply and demand conditions prevailing in the B.C. market. The B.C. Liberal government chose not to put the dam to independent evaluation by the BCUC before moving forward with the project.
Below is a copy of the letter that I sent back to Premier Clark.
June 6, 2017
The Honourable Christy Clark
Premier of British Columbia
Victoria, BC V8V 1X4
Dear Premier Clark,
Thank you for your letter in response to Mr. Horgan’s request to delay the relocation of two homes pending future review of the Site C Dam by the BC Utilities Commission.
While I was neither privy to, nor involved in, writing Mr. Horgan’s letter to Ms. McDonald, you will know that for four years I have raised significant and substantive concerns regarding the economics of the Site C project.
Your government has chosen to proceed with the costliest public works project in BC history without adequately analysing its economic viability. Even the chair of the Federal-Provincial Joint Review Panel that reviewed the Site C Dam, Dr. Harry Swain, has criticised the process for not sufficiently evaluating the project’s economic case. In the face of these significant concerns, and despite numerous calls for an independent review by the BC Utilities Commissions, you are about to apparently move the project to the “point of no return”.
Please let me express my disappointment in how your government is choosing to proceed with this project. Your government is turning a significant capital project that potentially poses massive economic risks to British Columbians, into a political debate rather than one informed by evidence and supported by independent analysis.
Your letter asserts that delaying the relocation of two homes will cost BC Hydro ratepayers an estimated $600 million due to the project delay. You further request an indication of my position on the matter.
Before I can comment on these assertions, I require access to the supporting evidence, including but not limited to the signed contracts, the project schedule and the potential alternative project timelines that could allow an independent review to be conducted at minimal cost to the ratepayer.
In addition, I would need briefing notes on the status of existing delays including those associated with the stability of the north bank as well as the acquisition of and compliance with any environmental permits.
I would be pleased to answer your questions on the assumption that the information requested will be forthcoming in a timely manner.
Dr. Andrew Weaver, OBC, FRSC
Leader, BC Green Party
Today in the Legislature I rose to question the Minster of Energy and Mines on ongoing problems at Tulsequah Chief mine located in northwestern BC. Untreated acid mine drainage has been flowing into the Tulsequah River, a pristine salmon spawning ground, since 1957.
Last week Rivers Without Borders, a transboundary watershed conservation group, questioned whether or not the government was backpeddling on its promise to clean up the mine site. Today I posed that question directly to the Minister.
Below I reproduce the video and text of the exchange.
A. Weaver: The Tulsequah Chief mine, located on the best salmon-producing watershed in the B.C.-Alaska transboundary region, has been the host to a series of unfortunate events. Acid mine drainage has been entering the prime salmon spawning ground for 60 years. It’s bankrupted two companies in the last seven years. It’s an issue of profound concern for Alaska’s elected officials and is officially being opposed by the Taku River Tlingit First Nation.
It’s environmentally irresponsible, fiscally reckless and offensive to the Taku River Tlingit First Nation and Alaska for the B.C. government to allow the sordid Tulsequah Chief story to continue as is.
My question is to the Minister of Energy and Mines, who has repeatedly committed to fixing the problems that this mine has created. Will B.C. keep its word and address the Tulsequah problem with a long overdue proper cleanup, or will it allow yet another mining company to pick up where Chieftain Metals left off and let Tulsequah Chief’s controversy waste and environmental black eye to B.C. continue?
Hon. B. Bennett: I’d like to thank the member for the question. I think all of us — on this side of the House, and certainly, on the other side of the House — share the concern about any situation in the province, whether it’s mining or any other activity, that has potential to harm the environment and also has potential to harm the reputation of the province. I take the member’s question very seriously, and we take the situation very seriously on this side of the House.
The state of Alaska and the province of British Columbia have done three studies of the Tulsequah River and the Taku River to determine whether there are contaminants going into the river, and those studies so far have shown that there isn’t significant environmental harm being done. Nonetheless, the member is correct that B.C. has an obligation to manage that situation very carefully.
I can tell the member that we are committed to doing more work on that site. We did some work in the fall, up to freeze-up. We have a regular communication with the state of Alaska to make sure that they know what we’re doing up there. After breakup this spring, I know that we have crews going back into the site to do some more work.
Today in the Legislature I was up in Question Period. I questioned the Minister of Justice, Suzanne Anton, about the lobbying and donation practices of the fossil fuel industry and the effect on government decision-making. I also asked about reforms needed to regulate the lobbying industry in BC and bring it in line with federal standards.
My question follows reports in the media over this week that lobbyists are engaging in illegal donation practices on behalf of their clients, as well as a recent analysis that maps the influence of the fossil fuel industry in BC politics, highlighting extensive lobbying practices and vast amounts of political donations. Both reports can be found at the end of this article.
Below are the text and video of the exchange. I was disappointed with the Minister’s answers. She merely restated that we have a registry of lobbyists in BC. We do have a registry, but its usefulness as a tool of transparency is severely limited, since lobbyists are not required to report the meetings they hold with public office holders. Moreover, we have no code of conduct for lobbyists to regulate practices such as gift-giving to public office holders. The Office of the Registrar of Lobbyists recommended both of these measures, back in 2013, as important ways to make lobbying practices more transparent in BC. Yet the government has ignored these recommendations and the Minister of Justice was unwilling to engage on this serious issue.
A. Weaver: Vast amounts of money are flowing from fossil fuel companies to both the B.C. Liberals and — to a much lesser extent, mind you — the B.C. NDP.
Between 2008 and 2015, 48 fossil fuel companies and industry groups donated $5.2 million to the government and official opposition and reported more than 22,000 lobbying contacts with public officials between 2010-2016. With seven of the top donors also ranking among the most active lobbyists, there is a substantial overlap between those who give money and those who get meetings.
To further that, 28 percent of lobbying by the top-ten most active lobbyists has been directly with cabinet ministers — an unrivaled level of access — and the Minister of Natural Gas Development is the most targeted member in the entire Legislature.
In light of this, my question to the Minister of Justice is this. How does the government expect the public to trust that their interests are being protected and that these practices are not buying lobbyists and their clients special treatment?
Hon. S. Anton: It may be that the member was not here yesterday to know that we actually established the first-ever lobbyist registry in 2002 to establish transparency so British Columbians could see who is doing the lobbying. There never was a registry before that. After some years of experience with that registry, we updated it in 2009, creating one of the strongest regimes for lobbyist registration in Canada.
The updates increased the registrar’s powers and duties so the lobbyist registrar now has the power to conduct investigations, to compel testimony and to compel documents. In other words, the lobbyist registrar has the tools that he or she needs in order to make sure that the registry is conducted properly and that the lobbyists are conducting themselves in accordance with the rules, which is what I expect, which is what we expect as a government.
A. Weaver: I’m glad the minister talked about the lobbying registry, because frankly, we are one of the weaker in the country of Canada. B.C. lacks rules to regulate lobbying practices and ensure transparency.
We know that extensive lobbying is ongoing in B.C., but we have no code of conduct for lobbyists. Moreover, we have no requirement in B.C. for lobbyists to register actual meetings with public office holders. All they have to do is register who they plan to lobby. Other jurisdictions in Canada have much stricter standards.
It’s clear to me that with our rampant cash-for-access system and allegations that lobbyists are engaging in illegal donation practices on behalf of their clients — largely to the B.C. Liberals but also to the B.C. NDP — that we need much more stringent rules. We need standards against which the public can hold lobbyists and their contacts in the government to account.
My question to the Minister of Justice is: will the minister commit to transparency on lobbying practices, including requiring lobbyists to report on actual meetings held with government officials and creating a code of conduct for lobbyists?
Hon. S. Anton: The matter that the member referred to about contributions is very clearly, if that were to happen, a breach not of the lobbyists act but of the Election Act. The Election Act in section 186(2)(b) says that “an individual may make a political contribution with the money of another individual, but must disclose to the individual required to record the contribution under section 190….”
In other words, you can make a payment on behalf of a third party, but the third party must be disclosed. It must be very clear that it is that third party’s money which has gone to the payment. That is a breach of the Election Act. It is very clearly a breach if that is conducted. I think that that’s the conduct the member is referring to.
In fact, to the lobbying act itself, the 2009 updates to the act put very strict and significant penalties into that act for breaches of the act.
Mapping Political Influence: Political donations and lobbying by the fossil fuel industry in BC, Corporate Mapping Project, Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives. Available at: http://www.corporatemapping.ca/bc-influence/.
Lobbying in British Columbia: The Way Forward: Report on Province-Wide Consultations and Recommendations for Reform, Elizabeth Denham, Registrar of Lobbyists. Available at: https://www.lobbyistsregistrar.bc.ca/handlers/DocumentHandler.ashx?ID=447.
‘Fairly limited’ transparency rules for lobbyists in B.C., deputy registrar says, Liam Britten, CBC News. Available at: http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/british-columbia/lobbying-lobbyists-b-c-1.4014551.
British Columbia: The ‘wild west’ of fundraising, Kathy Tomlinson, CBC News. Available at: http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/investigations/wild-west-bc-lobbyists-breaking-one-of-provinces-few-political-donationrules/article34207677/.
Today in the legislature I rose to table Private Members’ Bill entitled: Bill M228 — Energy and Water Efficiency Act 2017: As I noted in introducing it, this Bill was originally tabled by the Liberal government in 2012 as Bill 32 — Energy and Water Efficiency Act. The Bill received support from all sides of the legislature when it was introduced in 2012. Unfortunately, it was never brought to the Committee of the whole house and subsequently third reading. We missed an opportunity in 2012 to pass this legislation. I hope that the government chooses to pick this up at this time.
A. Weaver: I move that a bill intituled the Energy and Water Efficiency Act, 2017, of which notice has been given, be introduced and read a first time now.
A. Weaver: I’m pleased to introduce a bill intituled the Energy and Water Efficiency Act, 2017.
This bill was originally tabled by the Liberal government in 2012. This is a bill that the Minister of Energy and Mines, at the time, said would reduce consumers’ energy bills and lower operating costs for B.C. businesses.
This legislation would replace the current Energy Efficiency Act. It would enable administrative penalties to ensure manufacturers, distributors and retailers comply with energy efficiency guidelines, broaden the scope of energy efficiency requirements to include commercial energy systems, industrial reporting and water efficiency and enable the minister responsible to enact regulations for technical standards.
It was a good and widely supported piece of legislation. It seems that the only reason it went to second reading and wasn’t taken to committee was the fact that the official opposition supported it.
I move that the bill be placed on the orders of the day for the second reading at the next House after today.
Bill M228, Energy and Water Efficiency Act, 2017, introduced, read a first time and ordered to be placed on orders of the day for second reading at the next sitting of the House after today.
Today in the Legislature I rose to re-introduce my private members bill entitled Bill M219: Recall and Initiative Amendment Act.
It is clear that British Columbians are concerned about oil pipelines and have lost confidence in the federal review process. The problem is, the tools we have to make our voices heard are too restrictive. If enacted, this bill would give British Columbians a stronger voice on how oil pipeline proposals are evaluated in the province.
Last October the residents of Bella Bella saw first hand how unprepared we are for an oil spill. It’s clear from the federal hearings I participates in on the Trans Mountain pipeline that these concerns aren’t being adequately addressed. In addition, no specifics have been outlined as to how recently announced federal funding will be used to prepare for a heavy oil spill.
My bill would make it easier for British Columbians to require their provincial government to hold a made-in-B.C. hearing process on oil pipelines.
A. Weaver: I move that a bill intituled the Recall and Initiative Amendment Act, 2017, of which notice has been given, be introduced and read a first time now.
A. Weaver: It gives me great pleasure to introduce this bill, which is designed to empower British Columbians so that their voices can be more effectively heard on environmental reviews of major projects such as oil pipelines.
If we are to re-engage British Columbians in our democracy, we need to actively seek their view on far more of what we debate in this Legislature. We also need to provide them with additional tools to hold their government to account. The Recall and Initiative Amendment Act is one such tool. British Columbians have lost faith in the federal review process, particularly as it pertains to oil pipeline proposals. The province has not listened to their voices.
This bill would offer British Columbians an opportunity to ensure that their voices are indeed heard. If an initiative were to pass under the proposed changes in the Recall and Initiative Amendment Act, it would require government to pull out of an existing environmental equivalency agreement for a particular project and hold its own made-in-B.C. review of, for example, a proposed heavy-oil pipeline.
I move that the bill be placed on the orders of the day for second reading at the next sitting of the House.
Bill M219, Recall and Initiative Amendment Act, 2017, introduced, read a first time and ordered to be placed on orders of the day for second reading at the next sitting of the House after today.