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BC NDP government will build Site C dam in order to defend Liberal tax cuts

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Michael T Fenn and Bradley Hughes

December 11, 2017

Today, in approving continued construction of the Site C dam, the BC NDP decided to proceed with an incredibly unpopular project - started by the hated Liberal government – bulldoze over the rights of indigenous peoples, and continue ecological devastation to the Peace River region. Premier Horgan defended the decision stating, “It’s clear that Site C should never have been started. But to cancel it would add billions to the Province’s debt – putting at risk our ability to deliver housing, child care, schools and hospitals for families across B.C. ” Further, he claimed that the $4 billion debt from money already spent and costs of remediation would result in “massive cuts to the services they (people) count on.”
Defending Liberal tax cuts
The fiscal impact of cancelling the dam is only unsustainable because the NDP won’t rescind Liberal tax cuts. By returning income tax rates on corporations and on those earning more than $100,000 a year to 1999 rates, the NDP government would have $5 billion more a year. This is money that could pay for the cancellation of the dam and for a just transition that would provide more well-paying unionized construction and other jobs than Site C will.
So much for UNDRIP
The Site C dam represents a major test of the government’s commitment to the principles of “free, prior and informed consent” as outlined in the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP). The Site C dam is opposed by the Assembly of First Nations, the Union of British Columbia Indian Chiefs (UBCIC), the First Nations Summit, the West Moberly and Prophet River bands, and the other Treaty 8 First Nations. A few days before the announcement Grand Chief Stewart Phillip of the UBCIC said that, “a project approval will represent a complete betrayal of First Nations and the vast majority of British Columbians who stand in steadfast opposition to the Site C dam project”
To help make their decision, the NDP cabinet requested six experts to meet with them. None were from an Indigenous organization, which further shows the government’s disregard for indigenous sovereignty.
The Greens are no alternative
After this betrayal by the NDP many will look to the BC Greens as an alternative. But this would be a shift to the right.
Remember, after the election it took the BC Greens’ caucus weeks to decide if it had more in common with the Liberals and their corporate backers or the NDP. The Greens are not on the side of workers. Andrew Weaver made this clear in comments on his website, "Ultimately, the BC NDP made a choice. They chose to eliminate the tolls on the Port Mann and Gold Ears bridges instead of cancelling Site C”. The Greens would have maintained these tolls, which result in penalizing working people with user fees, rather than increase taxes on the rich to pay for the cancellation of Site C.
On top of that, the BC Greens are playing just as cynical a game as the other parties. They could have made it clear that they would bring down the government if Site C was approved. The decision on the dam doesn’t need to go to the legislature, but the Greens could have promised to vote against the budget in February and trigger an election that would then be mainly about Site C. This would have added to the pressure on the NDP and might only give faint hope of canceling the project, but it would give hope. Instead the Greens will allow the government to stand and then oppose the NDP in the next election when any chance of stopping the dam is long gone.
The NDP continues to the right
By choosing to pit supporters of public services against Indigenous rights and a just transition, the NDP is pulling its supporters to the right. Unfortunately, until the NDP is willing to consider reversing the Liberal tax cuts, their supporters again and again will be asked to pit one social need against another. This is the politics of austerity.
Defending the NDP’s decision or supporting the Greens will move people to the right and will make it harder to fight for a just transition that can deal with the climate crisis while respecting indigenous rights, and improving living standards for all workers, including construction workers.
Political Cost
Just days before the announcement, Grand Chief Stewart Phillip of the Union of BC Indian Chiefs promised, “With every court case, every delay, every budget lift, and every rate hike, we will remind British Columbians that it may have been the BC Liberals that got us into this mess, but it was the BC NDP who chose to abandon us there.”
It is urgent that the anger over this decision does not lead people into the arms of the Liberals or the Greens. There is no wedge between jobs and environment, nor between workers and the public good, only between the interests of big business and the wealthy against Indigenous rights and workers. Only in solidarity can labour, environmentalists, and Indigenous peoples fight for a political alternative that puts people before profit. We desperately need such a political alternative in BC.

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