VICTORIA – British Columbia Premier John Horgan opened his New Democratic Party’s convention on Nov. 4 with an exuberant cheer to celebrate the party’s rise to power after 16 years of Liberal governments, but he quickly turned to serious issues ahead.
"It feels like the election was a lifetime ago," said Horgan about last May’s election that resulted in the NDP reaching an agreement with the Green party to form a minority government.
He said the New Democrats face one of the most difficult decisions in B.C.’s history over the future of the $8.3 billion Site C hydroelectric dam, which has been under construction for more than two years.
The New Democrats announced they will make a yes or no decision on Site C, and the fate of the more than 2,000 people currently working on the project, by the end of the year.
An independent government-commissioned report found the project in B.C.’s northeast will likely not meet its 2024 completion date and is over budget and could cost more than $10 billion.
"We have a serious decision ahead of us," said Horgan. "It’s not just me, not just our colleagues in the government but all of us in B.C. It’s a decisive decision about where we go from here, but this is the good news friends, the decision to proceed or not to proceed is going to be made in the interest of British Columbians."
One of the Horgan’s government’s first moves after taking power last July was to ask the B.C. Utilities Commission, the province’s independent utilities regulator, to examine the project’s economic viability. Site C, which would be the third dam on B.C.’s Peace River near Fort St. John, was a signature job-creation and power generation plan of former Liberal premier Christy Clark.
The commission report stated the dam is not likely to be completed by a 2024 deadline and could end up costing 20 to 50 per cent more than budgeted, increasing completion costs to above $10 billion.
Horgan told reporters following his convention speech, he will conduct an intense economic review of the project in the coming weeks. He said he is concerned about recent reports of tension cracks in areas at the construction site.
"I’m going to be working with the ministry of finance, B.C. Hydro, the ministry of energy to look at the economics of the project going forward, and new revelations about geotechnical challenges makes it increasingly difficult to look at the project as one that is going to be in the best interest of B.C.," he said.
But Horgan said his comments should not be viewed as a signal he already has made up his mind about killing Site C.
"We’ve got a lot of analysis to do on the numbers and how we proceed from here will be known in the fullness of time," he said.
Horgan also told convention delegates the NDP faces a looming battle over the $7.4 billion Kinder Morgan Trans Mountain pipeline project, which the party says threatens the province’s coast.
The Alberta-to-B.C. pipeline has already received approvals from the federal Liberals and the former B.C. Liberal government, but the NDP promised during the election campaign to fight the project.
"We are going to be guided by the values of the people in this room," Horgan told delegates. "We’re going to be guided by the values of British Columbians who believe that a seven-fold increase in tanker traffic in the Salish Sea is not in the interest of our environment. It’s not in the interest of our economy and we’re going to make decisions based on the best interests of you and all British Columbians across the province."
Horgan reinforced the NDP’s plans to fight the pipeline project in comments to reporters after his convention speech.
"We’ve been working as diligently as we can looking at what tools we have to make sure we’re putting up the opposition British Columbians have professed to us," he said.
Horgan generated large cheers throughout his speech, but the loudest came when he told delegates he will set his sights high and not accept second best.
Horgan hugged federal NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh, who also address the convention.
Horgan’s leadership received a 97.5 per cent approval at a convention vote.