Site C is a mess!
From investigative reporting we know that the government has had information for at least a year about significant geotechnical problems with the project.
In this round of questions, Minister of Energy, Hon. Bruce Ralston, continues his desperate attempt to blame this project on the former BC Liberal government. While it is true the Liberals did everything they could to get the project “past the point of no return” Site C is now the responsibility of the BC NDP. It was Premier John Horgan who made the decision to proceed with construction in 2017. Unfortunately, Minister Ralston continues to attempt to deflect responsibility away from the decision he was a part of.
Minister Ralston has a curious opening in his response to my supplemental. He said, “it’s disappointing to hear this member spread information…” He is frustrated that I am trying to spread information?
That is the whole point of this line of questioning!
The decisions made by Premier Horgan and his Cabinet are going to saddle BC Hydro ratepayers with an overwhelming financial burden for decades to come and yet they continue to deflect questions and push full steam ahead on this ill-fated project.
British Columbians deserve more information about this multi-billion dollar boondoggle and we are not getting it from the BC NDP government.
SITE C POWER PROJECT
This government has been keeping the public….
Members, that question is over. Next one.
Thank you, Mr. Speaker. This government has been keeping the public in the dark about the costs and the public safety risks of Site C. The Premier has known since at least January and probably much earlier about the significant geotechnical problems at Site C. And yet it wasn’t until the end of July, seven months later, that he chose to come clean with the public about the massive problems facing this dam and that project.
My question is to the Premier: will the Premier inform this House when he and his ministers in the cabinet first learned about the very serious issues facing Site C, and can he explain why he chose not to inform the public or take any action until the middle of this past summer?
Hon. B. Ralston:
I thank the member for the question. When discussing Site C, it’s important to reflect back on the genesis of this project and remember that the old government, the Liberal government, set out to push this project forward past what the then Premier, Premier Clark, described as the point of no return.
They refused to let the BCUC, the independent watchdog, examine the project. They signed off on a design that included geological risks, and they spent billions of dollars without proper oversight in pushing the project forward.
Clearly, there were cost pressures on the project, but the government has been managing them. COVID created unforeseen challenges for the project, and we are now facing geotechnical challenges in the design that the old government approved.
As a result of that, I asked and brought on Peter Milburn, a former deputy minister to the member for Abbotsford West, as a special adviser. He has been playing a major role in examining the project. He will provide me and our government with independent advice and a fresh perspective. I’m expecting that report shortly, and we will go from there. I don’t really want to prejudge the results of his review.
The member for Saanich North and the Islands for a supplemental.
I think it’s important to note that this is not just a Liberal project at its genesis. This is an NDP project, as they picked it up and have been carrying the water on this for the last 3½ years. Also, I think it’s important to point out that I did not ask a question about the project. I asked a question about what the Premier knew and when he knew it. I’m not sure why that minister stood up and answered the question.
The government has known about the project risk and the significant geotechnical problems for a very long time. Yet the Premier and his cabinet have kept this information from the public, racing ahead with construction, even during the COVID-19 pandemic. It’s reckless in the extreme that instead of pausing the project, this government is barreling ahead, even diverting a river in the middle of an election.
Still we have no answers about the public safety, no answers about the stability of the dam site, no answers about what the final cost will be. The Premier won’t stand up and answer a question about what he knew and when he knew it.
My question, again, is to the Premier. Why has the Premier allowed B.C. Hydro to go full speed ahead on construction this year, even diverting the river to begin construction of this earth-filled dam, while keeping British Columbians in the dark about the serious risks facing this project?
Hon. B. Ralston:
It’s disappointing to hear this member spread information. B.C. Hydro has been clear. It wasn’t until December 2019 that engineers confirmed the significant foundation challenges associated with the right bank. In January 2020, further analysis on the foundation and potential enhancements was initiated, and this work continued into the spring. That’s one of the items on which we’ll expect further comment from Mr. Milburn.
I’ll say what is disappointing is that the NDP government won’t actually stand up and give accurate information to the public or to this House on this project. This is really starting to look like a cover-up, when the Premier won’t even stand up and answer the question posed to him by my colleague from Saanich North and the Islands.
There is a shocking amount of secrecy around Site C. This is the single most expensive infrastructure project in B.C.’s history, and the Premier is deliberately keeping the public in the dark while spending $3 million per day continuing construction. This is public money, and people have a right to far more transparency and accountability on this project than they are getting.
My question is to the Premier. Will the Premier commit to releasing the full, unedited, unredacted Milburn report and the terms of reference, as well as the reports from the technical advisory committee, all Site C project assurance board records and all reports from the Site C independent engineer?
Hon. B. Ralston:
As I mentioned, I’ve brought on Mr. Milburn, who is a professional engineer and a former deputy minister. He has been examining the project, playing a very important role. It’s because we take this situation very seriously that he has been brought on, and he will provide advice. He will give myself and our government independent advice and a fresh perspective.
I am not in a position to prejudge the results of his review and, therefore, am not able to answer some of the detail in the member’s questions.
The Leader of the Third Party on a supplemental.
Mr. Speaker, my colleague and I have asked a series of questions of government today about the single largest infrastructure project in B.C.’s history, and we have not received a single straightforward answer. We’ve seen, in this question period, what is reminiscent of what we have seen around Site C for the last three years: few answers, very little information and no transparency from this government.
Peter Milburn’s appointment is an exercise that appears to serve as political cover for this government to avoid answering questions for anything else. Milburn doesn’t have the right technical expertise to even recommend a fix to the site, and he is — like every other expert that this government brings forward — far from independent from this project.
My question, hon. Speaker, is to the Premier. Will he finally do the right thing, suspend construction of this dam and appoint an independent panel of actually internationally recognized experts to undertake a review to see if this project can be built safely and at what cost?
Hon. B. Ralston:
Mr. Speaker, I have full confidence in Mr. Milburn, and I don’t share the view that’s expressed of his expertise and his qualifications. I’m looking forward to the report and the advice that he will provide to myself and to the government. I think it will be very helpful in assessing the path forward for this project.