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Does Justin Trudeau have a dam & transmission line agenda?

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau appears to be backing both the controversial Site C dam and a 1,000-kilometre hydro transmission line that would extend from it.

The narrative that appears to be emerging is as follows: Trudeau delays on restoring the protections lost under the Navigation Protection Act (which presently excludes proposed hydro transmission lines that would cross rivers from being subject to a federal assessment); he then quietly grants Navigation Protection Act permits to allow the construction of the Site C dam to continue on the Peace River in northeastern British Columbia (a move Grand Chief Stewart Phillip described as a “cowardly”); then his government appears open to suggestions (including from former Liberal minister of the environment Sergio Marchi) that the new federal infrastructure bank could help finance a transmission line from the Site C dam to Alberta.

And while this transmission line is being spun as a green energy strategy that would help Alberta phase-out coal-fired electricity, that sidesteps the reality that the Site C dam would produce the equivalent of adding 27,000 cars onto the road every year, that it appears to be part of a quid pro quo deal for approving the Kinder Morgan TransMountain tar sands pipeline (that according to Oil Change International would release the equivalent emissions of operating 42 coal plants), and that the dam (and likely its accompanying transmission line that could stretch 1,000 kilometres) violates the United Nations right to free, prior and informed consent for Indigenous peoples.

The timeline as told through mainstream news articles is as follows:


The Financial Post reported, “Premier Christy Clark’s Liberal government [has] made an unexpected proposal to export Site C power to Alberta and asked for $1 billion in federal government aid [for transmission lines] to better connect the two provinces’ electricity systems. Alberta, which is in the early innings of its own controversial transition from coal to renewable energy, has said it won’t buy B.C.’s power unless it can get bitumen pipelines to the B.C. coast — something its western neighbour has given it a lot of grief over. But if the two provinces and the federal government can pull off an agreement, the result could be a grand bargain that gives Ottawa more green energy, Alberta its pipelines and B.C. its dam.”


CBC reported, “[The Trudeau government] has granted two crucial federal permits for Site C, a controversial mega dam project in northeastern British Columbia. The permits allow B.C. Hydro to continue construction work on the giant dam on the Peace River near Fort St John. B.C. Hydro says the permits were issued this week by the Department of Fisheries and Oceans and Transport Canada and relate to fisheries and navigable waters.”


iPolitics reported, “The Trudeau government intends to use its new infrastructure bank to finance a ‘nation-building effort’ to build clean electricity systems between provinces and territories. …For instance, [former World Trade Organization chairman] Sergio Marchi, [now] president of the Canadian Electricity Association, said it could finance the infrastructure needed for British Columbia to transmit its abundant hydro power to Alberta, which is trying to shift off coal-fired electricity, or for Manitoba to transmit its hydro to Saskatchewan, which gets more than 40 per cent of its energy from coal-fired power plants.”

The Vancouver Sun reported, “[Alberta premier Rachel] Notley had previously said her government wouldn’t bite on the transmission line idea unless [British Columbia premier Christy Clark] showed more openness to her plea for an oilsands pipeline [ie, the Kinder Morgan TransMountain pipeline] to the West Coast. [British Columbia energy minister Bill] Bennett wouldn’t speculate on whether [federal finance minister Bill] Morneau’s apparent reference to [a federal willingness to help finance] the B.C.-Alberta project is linked to an appeal for B.C.’s support for an oilsands pipeline.”


And now Bloomberg reports, “Canada’s pipeline point man [Jim Carr] was a key player in decisions by Trudeau’s government to approve a major liquefied natural gas project in September and a pair of crude-oil proposals from Kinder Morgan and Enbridge [for the Line 3 pipeline] last month, preceded by a string of regulatory and environmental concessions to quell opposition. That cleared the deck for Carr, Canada’s minister of natural resources. Now preparing for President-elect Donald Trump’s administration with Rick Perry as his U.S. counterpart, Carr, 65, is shifting his attention in 2017 to two fresh endeavors: overhauling the country’s National Energy Board and pushing for new transmission lines, potentially funded by both government and pension funds.”

That article notes, “Trudeau has rolled out a climate plan with provinces aimed at reducing emissions, in part by accelerating a phase-out of coal-fired electricity. It will leave gaps for coal-burning provinces as Canada pushes to generate 90 percent of its electricity from non-emitting sources, up from the current 80 percent. Trudeau announced C$81.2 billion ($60 billion) in new infrastructure spending in November, along with the creation of a Canada Infrastructure Bank that’s expected to use government funds and leverage pension funds and other private-sector investment to build projects that drive growth and generate revenue. Clean electricity transmission is an obvious candidate.”

The Vancouver Sun has reported the BC energy minister saying that a direct federal contribution for the transmission line, perhaps through a private-public partnership, could be a deal-maker for the project.

The Council of Canadians will continue to monitor this situation, demand the full restoration (and enhancement) of the Navigable Waters Protection Act, highlight renewable energy alternatives to major dams, and support Indigenous rights and directly-impacted frontline community opposition to these mega-projects.