Most journalists, particularly ones occupying the BC Press Gallery, have spent little or no time examining Site C, the costliest public project in BC history.
In contrast, I remember daily headlines and aroused commentary when Premier Glen Clark’s government thought ferry construction would invigorate BC’s shipbuilding industry.
In financial terms, the bungled fast ferry project was 1/20 the size of Site C, destroyed no valuable farmlands and disrupted no cultural sites.
Yet, even when BC Hydro concealed details of massive Site C problems, corporate media barely paid attention. This week, Globe and Mail published scrutiny of the Peace River project, but it came from concerned citizens, not journalists.
Here are excerpts from the opinion piece by Chiesa, Swain and Harcourt, The Site C dam has become an albatross and a serious objective review is needed urgently:
Mauro Chiesa has worked on project finance around the world for many banks, including the World Bank. Harry Swain chaired the Joint Review Panel on Site C and is a former deputy minister of Industry Canada. Mike Harcourt is a former premier of B.C. and former mayor of Vancouver.
…BC Hydro has discovered nasty geotechnical conditions under the powerhouse and spillways, and says their cost and schedule estimates are so broken it will take them until the fall just to produce new ones.
…Back in 2018, a hugely experienced dam engineer named Harvey Elwin said – in a sworn court statement for the West Moberly First Nation – that he’d never seen such appalling foundation conditions nor such secrecy on the part of project proponents.
…BC Hydro blamed all this on COVID-19. But the problem has been staring the utility in the face for years. Its current (and late) reports to the BC Utilities Commission cover 2019 and the first quarter of 2020. Ignoring the novelty of blaming a piece of Pleistocene-era geology for a 21st-century problem, only the final two weeks of the 65 weeks covered by the report overlapped with the COVID-19 lockdown…
[BC Hydro] will apparently spend the summer costing out various alternatives for fixing a dam that’s being built on the geological equivalent of billiard balls…
But a fundamental problem even nastier than unco-operative geology still looms: the fact that even by 2025, there will be no demand for the power Site C produces. Its cost will likely be north of $120 per megawatt hour (MWh) – even more than the $118/MWh residential consumers paid last year, and more than the very high $87/MWh paid last year for power from Independent Power Producers. Couple that with the concessionary $54/MWh rates promised to the liquefied natural gas industry, and residential consumers are in for a terrific shock. And as the price rises, less will be consumed. This is the elasticity of demand: a snake that eats its own tail.
…In 2017, the NDP government decided, against much evidence, that the B.C. Liberals had succeeded in pushing the project past the point of no return. They now own this project, period.
While I applaud the Globe for publishing opinions of two acknowledged financial experts and a former BC Premier, where are the corporate journalists?
The American Press Institute explained media responsibility:
…journalists are in the business of monitoring and keeping a check on people and institutions in power.
Journalists, valuing this function, often refer to this job as “watchdog” journalism. Reporters keep an eye over their communities, especially the actions of government leaders, in order to protect them.
Unfortunately, the watchdog functions of media are disappearing. TV news prefers short segments with engaging visuals. Violent demonstrations, multi-vehicle crashes, fires and weather disasters take precedence over thoughtful analysis of complex issues.
Rather than holding special interests accountable, Canada’s largest newspaper chain courts them as business partners. Informing the public is a receding goal.
Media watchdogs are not effective revenue generators. But we all pay a price. We just don’t know it until much later.