Environment Minister George Heyman, Premier John Horgan and Energy Minister Michelle Mungall announce decision to proceed with construction of the Site C dam, B.C. legislature library, Dec. 11, 2017. (Ragnar Haagen/Black Press)

OPINION: Horgan wades in over his head on no-win Site C decision

Response ran the spectrum from ‘outrageous betrayal’ at worst to damning with faint praise at best

Well that went well.

The Site C dam project was a political football the BC NDP passed around since before the last election, and one wonders if Premier John Horgan thought he’d have a win-win on his hands.

On the one hand, it almost did look as if the NDP played its cards beautifully as far as political issues go. Horgan came out opposed to Site C in solidarity with ranchers and indigenous groups, not to mention those who argued the electricity isn’t needed.

He then cleverly made the promise that kept the final decision off his desk. A bit of a pass-the-buck to let the B.C. Utilities Commission (BCUC) review it.

If the BCUC said it wasn’t needed, Horgan could say he got expert opinion to back up his reasoning to shut it down.

But what’s that? BCUC says to go for it? OK, well at least Horgan kept the election promise to review it, which should appeal to NDP voters and placate critics. Right?

Maybe he imagined Site C backers would carry him on their shoulders for a parade through the streets. “Behold, the NDP leader, champion of Site C!”

Not quite.

• READ MORE: Environmental groups slam NDP decision to continue with Site C

• READ MORE: B.C. Conservatives applaud Site C decision

This was not only not a win-win for Horgan and the BC NDP, it quickly emerged to not even be a 50/50 win-lose scenario. The decision to go ahead with Site C has alienated environmental groups dead set against it, and large numbers of indigenous organizations and First Nations bands for the same reason.

“I am not the first person to stand before you and disappoint indigenous people,” Horgan said after the decision.

Indeed, just the latest in a long line.

One leader called it a “reconciliation fail.”

Amnesty International weighed in, calling continued construction “an outrageous betrayal of B.C. government’s human rights commitments.”

The Sierra Club of B.C. said history will not look kindly on this decision.

“Today is a dark day. The government has passed up its chance to stop this misbegotten project. Instead, it has betrayed First Nations and all those who voted in hope of stopping Site C.”

The Wilderness Committee reacted with “shock and anger” at the news.

“Allowing this money-wasting, human rights-abusing boondoggle of a white elephant to proceed will go down as one of the worst blunders in B.C. history,” national campaign director Joe Foy said.

But at least the Site C supporters are praising Horgan after the decision, right? As for business groups and others who supported Site C, damning with faint praise is about as good as it got.

“With so much at stake for our province, better late than never for John Horgan and the NDP Government to support Site C,” said Chris Gardner, president of the Independent Contractors and Businesses Association. “This entire process and all of the uncertainty it caused was completely unnecessary.“

The Canadian Taxpayers Federation (CTF) greeted the announcement with self-described “cautious optimism.”

Calling the cancellation of the project a “four billion-dollar bath” that would have been fiscally irresponsible, the CTF called for strict money management going forward.

“[It] cannot become an unending ‘make work’ project for union bosses, special interest groups and lobbyists,” said Kris Sims, BC director of the CTF.

As for Horgan’s buddy, Green Party leader Andrew Weaver, he called it “extremely disheartening.”

“Their justification for moving forward is distracting, irrelevant and unacceptable,” Weaver said.

Then there are the BC Liberals who started Site C, and surely wouldn’t praise Horgan, even if they do agree with the final decision. Politics demands you find the error in your opponent’s ways and, given the delays and uncertainty the NDP caused, this announcement was ripe for the picking.

Interim opposition leader Rich Coleman said on Twitter that the BC NDP spent millions of taxpayer dollars figuring out what his party knew all along: “Right project. Right place. Right time.”

The BC Liberals even created a website to track the project moving forward: www.keephorganhonest.ca.

Of course the reality may indeed be that, whether you are for or against the massive project, it was silly to stop Site C once billions had already been poured in. But reality and politics are streams that don’t always cross paths.

Site C is a file Horgan may wish he never waded into.

And, politically, the BC Liberals can only rub their hands with glee about how he not only waded in, but over his head.

Paul Henderson is a reporter with the Chilliwack Progress


@PeeJayAitch
paul.henderson@theprogress.com

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