Editor's note: This article was originally posted by Desmog Canada and has been republished with permission.

Justin Trudeau’s government has quietly issued its first batch of permits for the Site C dam — allowing construction to move forward on the $8.8 billion BC Hydro project despite ongoing legal challenges by two First Nations.

The federal-provincial review panel’s report on Site C found the 1,100 megawatt dam will result in significant and irreversible adverse impacts on Treaty 8 First Nations.

Caleb Behn, who is from West Moberly First Nation, one of the nations taking the federal government to court, says Trudeau has broken his promise.

“It’s 19th century technology being permitted with 19th century thinking and I expected more from the Trudeau government,” he said. “These permits were our last best hope to resolve this.”

“These permits suggest very strongly that, at least these ministries, if not Trudeau’s entire cabinet, are unwilling to engage in reconciliation with indigenous peoples. I thought this country could be more.”

Charlie Angus, MP for Timmins-James Bay and NDP critic for Indigenous and Northern Affairs, echoed those sentiments.

“I think this was a real test of the Trudeau government and they failed the test,” Angus said.

“The Liberals seem to be thinking that if they say the right things, it’s somehow the same as doing the right things.”

Trudeau has emphasized building a new relationship with indigenous peoples since taking office in October. He included the following paragraph in every ministerial mandate letter:

“No relationship is more important to me and to Canada than the one with Indigenous Peoples. It is time for a renewed, nation-to-nation relationship with Indigenous Peoples, based on recognition of rights, respect, co-operation, and partnership.”

But with the issuing of the Site C permits, doubts have been cast on that promise.

“We hear from all the key ministers about the nation-to-nation relationship and then they rubber stamp and go ahead with all the big projects,” Angus said.

For Behn, who was the subject of a documentary called Fractured Land last year, the sense of disappointment was palpable.

“What do they care about a backwater in northern B.C. that only has 40,000 voters?” he asked. “If you spent $9 billion on solar panels, geothermal … you wouldn’t have to run roughshod over indigenous rights.”

Liberals ignore calls to delay permits

The permits allow BC Hydro to block the flow of the Peace River and disrupt fisheries, activities that require federal permission. Until now, the Liberal government hadn’t issued any permits for the dam (the only federal permits issued were doled out during the last election by former prime minister Stephen Harper).

The Site C dam will flood more than 100 kilometres of river valley and impact 13,000 hectares of agricultural land — including flooding 3,800 hectares of farmland in the Agricultural Land Reserve, an area nearly twice the size of the city of Victoria.

Groups ranging from Amnesty International to the David Suzuki Foundation to the Royal Society of Canada have called on Trudeau to halt construction of the dam.

“The people of Treaty 8 have said no to Site C. Any government that is truly committed to reconciliation with indigenous peoples, to respecting human rights and to promoting truly clean energy must listen,” stated a letter sent to the federal government in February.

Federal Green Party leader Elizabeth May has called Site C the “litmus test” for the federal government’s commitment to a new relationship with indigenous peoples.

“It is agonizing to witness the starting gun for a race between bulldozers and justice,” May said in a statement in which she expressed “deep disappointment” with the federal government.

The Royal Society of Canada described the Site C Joint Review Panel report as the strongest and most negative review to be ignored by government.

In its report, the panel wrote that it couldn’t conclude that the power from Site C was needed on the schedule presented, adding: “Justification must rest on an unambiguous need for the power and analyses showing its financial costs being sufficiently attractive as to make tolerable the bearing of substantial environmental, social and other costs.”

The panel recommended the project be reviewed by the B.C. Utilities Commission — however, the B.C. and federal governments approved the dam without further review in late 2014.

Was consultation with First Nations adequate?

West Moberly First Nation and Prophet River First Nation will appear in a federal court in Montreal in September to fight their case.

“Sitting down and consulting with the provincial and federal government is a waste of time,” said Chief Roland Willson of West Moberly First Nation. “The only option we have is to challenge them in court.”

The Department of Fisheries and Oceans responded to DeSmog Canada’s request for comment on the issuing of Site C permits with the following statement:

“For the past seven months, DFO has consulted potentially affected Indigenous groups on the department’s review of BC Hydro’s application for authorization for the main civil construction works. In particular, DFO contacted the Prophet River and West Moberly First Nations, along with ten other potentially affected indigenous groups. DFO officials have made significant efforts to provide opportunities for input, including a July 18 face-to-face meeting between Minister LeBlanc and West Moberly First Nations Chief Roland Willson and Prophet River First Nation Chief Lynette Tsakoza.

DFO will continue to engage with Indigenous groups that have raised concerns about the project to ensure that their concerns continue to be heard and taken into account.”

Willson told DeSmog Canada the July 18th meeting marked the first time in six years that his nation has met with an official federal decision-maker on the Site C file.

“We met in Vancouver for about an hour. They sat there and took their notes and shook their heads in disbelief and then hopped on a plane back to Ottawa,” Willson said.

“That whole process was to check the box. They haven’t responded to any one of our concerns. If we don’t go, they get to check the box beside the other box saying that we refuse to consult with them. There’s no box anywhere that says ‘this was meaningful.’ The only box is did we show up or didn’t we.”

Willson said the Liberals have forgotten their election promises.

“This Liberal government is no different than the previous Harper government. They’re just sneaky. At least with Harper they were upfront about it.”

Democracy group LeadNow has launched a phone action across Canada to encourage citizens to “flood the phone lines before they flood the Peace Valley.” They are asking Canadians to call their MPs and let them know it is unacceptable for Trudeau to issue permits while there’s an outstanding First Nations legal challenge about the Site C dam. RAVEN Trust is also raising funds to support the First Nations legal challenge.

Enbridge Northern Gateway Pipeline Overturned Due to Lack of Consultation

Recently, the Federal Court of Appeal ruled that the federal government failed to meet even a basic standard of First Nations consultation on another controversial B.C. proposal — the Enbridge Northern Gateway pipeline.

With that ruling, the approval of the pipeline was overturned.

“The inadequacies — more than just a handful and more than mere imperfections — left entire subjects of central interest to the affected First Nations, sometimes subjects affecting their subsistence and well-being, entirely ignored,” the judges wrote in their ruling.

“Many impacts of the project — some identified in the Report of the Joint Review Panel, some not — were left undisclosed, undiscussed and unconsidered.”

The question of whether there has been adequate consultation ultimately rests with the courts — but if the Site C dam approval is overturned, a whole lot of public money will be at risk.

Muskrat Falls Boondoggle 'Almost Identical' to Site C

We need look no further than the Muskrat Falls debacle in Newfoundland to learn what happens when provinces embark on mega-dam projects without a proven need for the power.

The 824-megawatt Muskrat Falls hydro project now under construction on the Lower Churchill has nearly doubled in cost since first beginning construction (from $6.2 billion to $11.4 billion).

Stan Marshall, the CEO of Nalcor, Newfoundland’s provincial power corporation, has called the project a “boondoggle.”

“It was a gamble and it's gone against us,” he told reporters last month.

By 2022, the domestic rate for power in the province is expected to nearly double. For the average homeowner, Nalcor estimates this could mean an extra $150 per month in power costs.

“The generation and transmission project was much too large than was necessary to meet the energy requirements of the province,” he said.

“The original capital cost analysis, estimates and schedule was very aggressive and overly optimistic and just didn't account for many of the risks that were known, or should've been known, at the time.”

Muskrat Falls went ahead without review by Newfoundland’s Public Utilities Board and in defiance of the advice of the joint federal-provincial review panel.

Sound familiar?

“It’s almost an identical case,” Marc Eliesen, former CEO of BC Hydro, told DeSmog Canada.

“It’s clear even more so as each day goes by that there really is no business case for Site C, especially with Hydro’s own electricity demand decreasing significantly.”

BC Hydro’s recent annual report shows that demand projections were off by nearly half a Site C dam last year.

Can The Site C Dam Be Stopped?

With the federal permits in place and B.C. Premier Christy Clark vowing to get the dam “past the point of no return” before the next election, the big question is: can Site C still be stopped?

Eliesen points to examples from other provinces where projects have been halted mid-way.

For instance, in the 1970s, Manitoba Hydro began to build a dam on the Nelson River called the Limestone generating station. After 2.5 years of construction, it became apparent that the long-term power forecasts had changed and construction was suspended.

“They stopped, not withstanding construction for 2.5 years on a generation station that was larger than Site C,” Eliesen said.

“Can you postpone, can you suspend, can you cancel Site C? Basically the experience in other jurisdictions shows that you can if the end result shows that the cost to the ratepayer will be more than if you postpone or suspend.”

The Limestone project resumed seven years later in 1985 once a major export contract was negotiated with Minnesota. Eliesen was chairman of Manitoba Hydro at the time.

“If you want to export the power, you have to make sure it’s exported on a firm power demand basis,” Eliesen said. “Any firm power deal would have to be made in advance on any decision to construct something in British Columbia. It would be folly to think otherwise.”

Selling power at the interruptable rate (often five to six times lower than the firm rate) means you don’t cover the true cost of service.

“You’re going to lose your shirt on it,” Eliesen says. “You’re going to sell power at a price that is less than it cost to create it.”

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Comments

It's such a bad project for everyone. It's true what my father said. Don't listen to what people say, watch what they do.

In his book, Stolen Continents, Ronald Wright captured the essence of European racism towards the indigenous peoples of the Americas. It is found in the notion that Europeans discovered America and it was an empty land of resources waiting for them to exploit. The indigenous peoples were inconveniences to be defeated in battle or swindled through treaties. And that has been the history of Europeans’ and their American descendents’ relations with indigenous peoples in the Americas. In Canada, it was largely the treaty swindle that was used to seize indigenous peoples lands and rape the environment making it difficult and sometimes impossible for the indigenous peoples to maintain their way of life and their culture.

During the 19th century various approaches were used including moving indigenous people to reservations with the promise of food and then starving them to get cooperation. During the 20th century, governments simply dismissed the claims of indigenous peoples when they could and ignored them when they couldn’t. In the 1930s, the British Privy Council ruled in favour of provincial control of resources. This ruling appears to have ignored the fact that the treaties were based on the sharing of land and resources. At that time many of the fiscal responsibilities of the federal government should have also fallen and provincial governments but that did not happen.

When a corporation or powerful individual in the mainstream society wanted to exploit a resource on indigenous land it was allowed to happen. At one point, the Supreme Court indicated that indigenous peoples had the right to be consulted before their land and resources were exploited. But these consultations were largely token efforts. The indigenous people began to fight back by going to court and won most of their cases. In many cases, projects were started before any consultation or approval could be given and then were allowed to go ahead to avoid lawsuits from the corporations doing the exploiting.

In the 2015 election campaign Trudeau claimed that it was time to start a new nation to nation relationship with indigenous peoples. However, as seen with the Site C approval, the Trudeau government is pulling the same stunts that have been customary for a long time. Allowing the destruction of the environment to occur before the appeals are heard or the court cases undertaken. This will be at another stain on Canada’s reputation over its dealing with its indigenous peoples.

Another issue with the Site C approval is the flooding of a few hundred acres of agricultural land. Given the implications of climate change and the shrinking area of prime farmland, its destruction in the name of some kind of development plan should be illegal.

It is to be hoped that the implementation of the Site C decision will be delayed bylegal challenges and ultimately thrown out by the Supreme Court.

This project is a crime....but may well go ahead, because a majority of Canadians are used to criminal appropriation of someone elses land. They only start to complain when a company comes for their little piece of the rock.

We all bear the shame........but it is our children, and children's children, who will pay the price. Imagine! An agricultural region north of Edmonton where they can grow cantelope!!! And white boys in hard hats are going to trash it for electricity we don't need....and won't profit from. Whatever current power sources do to create temporary jobs.......the move to renewables is gaining momentum........and this 19th Century technology will succeed in achieving little but higher electricity rates for B.C. residents.

And PS....Christy and Rachel. I'll go off the grid before I'll use a single watt of power from a kill site like Site C. Paddled there last year and recognize a sacred site when I am inside one.

I am so sick of hearing this 'we don't need the power' story. It simply cannot be true if we intend to slow climate change.

Fossil fuels still provide about 80% of our primary energy. How can you replace that with sustainable power unless we have hydro reservoirs to provide energy as needed when the sun is down? Solar photovoltaic is a competitive and plentiful source of daytime energy. But we also need energy by night.

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