Recently, the NDP’s official decision on Site C, a new hydroelectric project on the Peace River, was revealed to be approval. The dam has been a contentious issue since it was first discussed more than fifty years ago. Today, with every major party in BC, the BC Liberals, NDP and yes, even the Greens, having a hand in bringing the project to fruition one may find themselves forced to accept that for one reason or another, at one time or another, a majority has decided that the dam’s completion is the way forward.
While the dam’s approval may be in the best interest of the province in the long-term, it is unlikely that this approval is in the best interest of the NDP here and now. While those currently working at the site are no doubt relieved to find they will not be losing their jobs over the holidays, the long process taken to arrive at this decision is likely to have taken a toll in a region where the NDP have found little support. Only a few months ago in May of 2017, NDP Peace River (N and S) candidates Rob Dempsey and Stephanie Goudie achieved 973 votes or 6.65% and 2,102 votes or 24.06% respectively. Compared to their Liberal running mates Mike Bernier and Dan Davies with 6,634 votes or 75.94% and 9,707 votes or 66.31% respectively. How future NDP support fairs in the region will be interesting to monitor but the Site C decision is likely to be a small factor.
The official opposition has also not taken this approval as an opportunity to congratulate the NDP. Andrew Wilkinson, party heavyweight and front-runner in the BC Liberal Leadership Race responded to the decision, “six months ago, a clean energy project to supply B.C. with renewable and affordable electricity for a hundred years was well underway, employing thousands of workers hard hit by the low price of oil, and supporting northeastern communities like Fort St. John. And then the NDP became government.” Wilkinson suggests that the steps taken by the NDP, initiating a further review process, “provided few conclusions and no recommendations” and that the NDP, “dithered on Site C’s fate while thousands of workers wondered if they would be able to afford to buy presents for their kids this Christmas.” Concluding “the NDP will not be getting a pat on the back from me. Six months of uncertainty has had no impact except to cast doubt amongst the world’s investors that B.C. is a good place to do business and create jobs.” Strong words but perhaps not unexpected from the other side of the building.
Comments that are undoubtedly more concerning to the NDP are originating from within their own camp and highlight disagreements between the parties’ union and environmental grass roots. Many longtime supporters, volunteers, and donors are flocking to show their dissent for the Site C dam approval. Dr. Steve Gray, chair of the Peace Valley Solidarity Initiative, and NDP member in the riding of Esquimalt-Metchosin, commented on the messages he has received, “we’ve seen people calling for the termination of the dam, and people saying that they plan to leave the party and stop their fundraising activities if this goes ahead.” Gray writes that as this news was breaking and in the months leading up to this decision, “we began to receive copies of letters and realized hundreds, if not thousands of NDP supporters were angry and worried about the Site C dam . . . that kind of situation [doesn’t] seem very good for the party.” Whether these feelings of betrayal will last or if other issues, such as proportional representation, will help the NDP to retain supporters is a question that will be seen in the coming months as the NDP work to promote other initiatives.
With geotechnical issues, cost concerns and timeline questions still not definitively answered it is likely that Site C will be an ongoing challenge for the NDP to manage in the months and years ahead. While there is likely to be pain in the near and medium future, Site C’s approval has demonstrated that the age of ‘province building’ and mega projects is not over. Emerging from the figurative shadow of the dam will be an ongoing project for the NDP moving forward.
My personal opinion? Site C will not significantly impact the NDP politically. Few swing voters are likely to see this as the issue that makes or breaks their faith in the NDP and in a region with polling numbers as rough as they have been it will take more than a begrudging approval to earn support. For the NDP faithful currently upset with the government, in time this approval will likely be accepted as an uncomfortable part of being government and forgotten by the next cycle.