I write this in the eve of leaving for Castlegar thence Nelson for a big rally Wednesday the 15th. The People are up in arms about the Glacier-Houser project which was given a Environmental Assessment Office (EAO) “public hearing” 10 days ago.
Because the project itself – and all private rivers schemes – seem so preposterous, please bear with me as I lay out the bare bones.
Back in 2002 The Campbell government hatched an “Energy Plan” after meetings with industry. Amongst other things, this plan was for electricity to be developed by private companies only. BC Hydro was not to create any new power except by upgrading their own generators and Site “C” on the Peace River. Grandfathering Site “C” was interesting because it permitted government to say “either we do these private river projects or it’s Site “C”, knowing that the public did not like the latter at all. It was rather like saying “if you don’t like the paddle we’re about to smack your ass with you can have, instead, 80 lashes with a cat-o-nine tails on your bare back.
This policy was never put to the people. This immense change in how we get our power had no public information disseminated publicly and there were no public meetings. In short, British Columbians have had no say in this dramatic decision.
The government plan, if plan it can be called, gives private industry the right to dam or divert our rivers for power which power must be bought by BC Hydro. Because, for the most part, the private power comes during the spring run-off, BC Hydro cannot use it so it must be exported and here’s the rub – because of the “take or pay” contracts BC Hydro has been forced to enter with the private companies, they can only recover 1/3 to ½ on the foreign market. Under these circumstances Hydro will be bankrupted. “Buy high, sell low” is the Campbell business motto. We are in the early stages but already Hydro owes $31 BILLION to private owners which are all big, offshore corporations.
As a very important yet little discussed by-product, BC Hydro, deprived of its profit, will not be declaring its annual dividend to the province of up to $1 BILLION, money which goes for our hospitals, schools and the like.
What sort of damned fool government would make such a deal? you ask.
The damned fool Campbell government, that’s who.
In fact the incredibility of the deal worked very much to Campbell’s electoral plan in a back-handed way. As I spoke around the province people would look at me and say “Mair, you must be wrong because only a government gone mad would do such a thing.” Slowly but surely the public is understanding that thos is a government that has lost its senses.
Now to the EAO public meetings. They are shams. They are only held for the stated purpose of speaking to the “terms of reference” for the Environmental Assessment process. People are not permitted to discuss the merits of the project at all. These meetings are jointly sponsored by the EAO and the company and invariably they are scheduled for the smallest place they can find. The one for Glacier-Houser was held not in Nelson, the largest town in the area, but in Kaslo – the same technique used 15 months ago for the Pitt River projects.
I have a theory that a public denied their rights to debate by the authorities will find a way to debate outside the system. And that’s what’s starting on the 15th in Nelson and will continue around the province.
But it’s not the “unofficial” meetings that are the real story but what follows. When the projects start there will be picketers. The company will then abuse the court system, as they all do, to get an injunction against the protesters and as they ignore the injunction they will be held in contempt of court and sent to jail. Usually a couple of jailings gets the job done but what if many, many protesters defy the injunction knowing full well that their civil disobedience means the slammer? How many jailed citizens can this government tolerate?
It’s not likely to stop there. In my assessment there will be violence, something I don’t condone but understand. What does the government think will be the reaction of citizens who see their friends and neighbours going to jail to save their rivers and their power company.
Glacier-Houser isn’t the only hot spot. There will be the Bute, the Klinaklini River and others will follow. Moreover, the opposite side of the private rivers issue is the fish farm outrage.
The end of this sordid mess, developed for Campbell’s government is not clear.
It all depends on how well the angry citizenry prepare for this fight and how they fight back.