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Horgan's Hydro dealings promise to be riveting power play

VICTORIA — Though New Democratic Party Leader John Horgan still has to clear a hurdle or two before becoming premier, he’s already fired off a cautionary letter to B.C. Hydro CEO Jessica McDonald about the Site C project.

“I am concerned at the potential to increase the liability of B.C. Hydro, B.C. Hydro ratepayers and taxpayers for new contracts that B.C. Hydro may be contemplating during this time of uncertainty regarding future governments and what new decisions may be made regarding Site C,” wrote Horgan in the letter sent out Wednesday.

“We urge B.C. Hydro not to finalize any contracts that do not contain a penalty-free cancellation clause until a new government has gained the confidence of the legislature to govern and decide future policy regarding the Site C project.”

He further urged Hydro to put off expropriating any homes along the route of a pending highway relocation adjacent to the dam and reservoir.

Horgan cited the likelihood that he will be called on to form a government after the expected defeat of the B.C. Liberals in a non-confidence vote in the legislature later this month.

“Given what the premier has characterized as a probable change in government over the coming weeks,” wrote the NDP leader, “we urge B.C. Hydro to suspend the evictions from these lands and grant a further extension on the timeline so that impacted families can stay in their homes until the future of Site C is firmly determined.”

He also reminded the Hydro CEO of the NDP’s intention, on taking office, to subject Site C to a review by the B.C. Utilities Commission.

But on the day before Horgan sent out the letter, he told reporters that construction should proceed on Site C pending the outcome of what was said to be a three-month review.

He never mentioned he would write McDonald directly with his concerns. Nor did his office share the letter with the public the day it was sent out.

Rather it was released Thursday afternoon by the Peace Valley Landowner Association, an advocacy group that has fought the project in and out of court.

The letter puts Hydro in a spot. Crown corporations, like government departments, only serve one political master.

Indeed, when one of the incoming B.C. Liberals issued an order to B.C. Ferries during the transition in 2001, the NDP-appointed head of the corporation made precisely that point: “I only serve one master.”

Right now, Hydro’s one master is the B.C. Liberals and their appointed board of directors.

Until the Liberals are defeated in the legislature — which hasn’t happened yet — and Horgan is called on to form a government — ditto — he has no authority to tell Hydro to do anything.

Granted, crown corporations and ministries are expected to operate in caretaker mode and not launch any new spending or policy initiatives during transitions from one government to another.

Horgan’s chief of staff Bob Dewar tried to put the NDP leader’s concerns in that context Thursday, albeit without mentioning the letter.

“We’re not reaching out to Hydro and telling them what to do, but I’m assured they are in caretaker mode,” Dewar told Rob Shaw of The Vancouver Sun. “They are not moving forward with something they’d have to come and talk to shareholders about, i.e. government.”

The main NDP concerns were that Hydro not sign new contracts, or expropriate homes or commence any work that would be irreversible.

The expropriations have already been put on hold for a month.

The next Big Ticket contract on the project is for construction of the generating station and spillways. Hydro shortlisted three proponents but is not scheduled to make the final call until fall.

So on those points, NDP expectations could be met. But in terms of not doing anything irreversible, as Horgan himself conceded, overall construction will continue.

Business as usual at Site C is nothing like what might come to mind from the NDP reference to the project being in “caretaker mode.”

Related

Some 2,200 workers are swarming over the site these days and the spending outlays are piling up at a rate of about $50 million a month.

By the time Horgan’s review is completed in the fall, about $2 billion will have already been spent.

The most recent construction update posted on the Site C website includes these items for the next two weeks:

• Removal of massive amounts of earth from on the north and south bank of the river.

• Blasting on the south bank.

• Construction of coffer dams for eventual diversion of the river and work on the diversion tunnels themselves.

• Building the foundation for the powerhouse.

• Excavation for the Site C substation.

• Construction of concrete aggregate crushing facilities, an on-site manufacturing facility for the turbines and generators, a rail siding and multiple access roads.

From that list alone, one gets a sense of a massive work in progress. I continue to have my doubts that Horgan will put a halt to the project, whatever the conclusion of his rush-job review.

But for those who think that the day of reckoning is at hand for Site C, I would just note that work is also underway on a public viewing station on the north bank of the river, just above the dam site.

Perhaps they will have it finished just in time for Premier Horgan to show up with a stop-work order and start handing out pink slips to all the workers.

Vpalmer@postmedia.com

Twitter.com/VaughnPalmer

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http://vancouversun.com/opinion/columnists/vaughn-palmer-horgans-hydro-dealings-promise-to-be-riveting-power-play