Harry Swain, having served as chair of the federal-provincial review panel for Site C, is qualified to provide a project analysis. The BC NDP caucus should pay attention because Premier Horgan has mishandled Site C at every step.
Doing the right thing now involves Premier and Cabinet admitting to a years long series of blunders. That’s not likely to happen without severe pressure from their enablers.
Even that hope is likely futile because humility is not a common trait of politicians. Pride makes people reluctant to admit their own mistakes.
Carol Tavris, a co-author of the book Mistakes Were Made (But Not by Me), believes self-concept — we’re smart, we’re kind, we make reasoned choices — is threatened by evidence that conclusions are mistaken.
People don’t readily alter self-concept so chains of error tend to lengthen.
Dr. Swain noted Premier Horgan’s first mistakes were failures to purge BC Hydro’s Board of “incompetent Liberal placemen” as well as top officials in provincial ministries. Among Victoria bureaucrats and the utility’s directors and senior managers, no decision maker had dam building experience.
However, they did share attitudes to electricity generation and distribution firmly rooted in the 20th century. Modern renewables were anathema so estimates of integration challenges and costs for Site C alternatives were outdated and grossly inaccurate. To the Joint Review Panel, BC Hydro reported prospective wind power costs at levels three and four times the prices on wind contracts other North American utilities have signed.
While grudgingly admitting to geotechnical and budget problems, Site C proponents pay almost no attention to environmental and cultural losses in the Peace River area. Despite government’s alleged commitment to the environment and to UNDRIP, NDP brushed aside this finding of the review panel:
…Replacing a portion of the Peace River with an 83-kilometre reservoir would cause significant adverse effect on fish and fish habitat, and a number of birds and bats, smaller vertebrate and invertebrate species, rare plants, and sensitive ecosystems.
The Project would significantly affect the current use of land and resources for traditional purposes by Aboriginal peoples… The project would inundate a number of valuable paleontological, archaeological, and historic sites…
ON A TROUBLED PROJECT, there is a tendency for every sequential decision to narrow the options and increase the costs of the next one. Path dependency, once it has set in, makes out-of-the-box thinking harder and harder since it requires the proponent to say, “I was wrong.”
…The Commission [BCUC], with a short deadline and a restricted mandate, answered the questions asked, with evidence that came principally from the proponent BC Hydro. Despite some manful attempts to smuggle a few home truths into the text, such as around over-capacity and flat demand, the government allowed the Commission’s analysis to be savaged by the provincial bureaucracy. Second mistake. Premier Horgan and his Cabinet should have asked for the views of external critics as well.
In consequence, the Premier wound up accepting, with a degree of public reluctance, a decision that flew in the face of basic textbook advice about the fallacy of sunk costs….
He appointed a Project Assurance Board to continuously monitor BC Hydro’s promises, and a Technical Advisory Board of engineers and scientists. But—fourth mistake—he allowed the inmates to appoint the wardens and, suspecting the make-up of these boards would not withstand public scrutiny, acquiesced in a degree of secrecy of North Korean quality.
…Mr Milburn‘s terms of reference were not released. However, despite the focus on dam safety, he had no independent expert assistance and was at the mercy of BC Hydro, its contractors, and the hapless Project Assurance and Technical Advisory Boards, which had obviously failed…
If Premier Horgan chooses to finish the dam, the next election will coincide with the completion of the project—and the entry of Site C’s enormous cost to a rate base already stressed by having too much capacity. It’s far too late to blame things on their predecessors. The current government now “owns” the project in every sense.