The federal government has decided not to oppose a First Nations bid for an injunction to delay the C$10.7-billion Site C hydro development in British Columbia, and some of the resulting news coverage is suggesting a connection to another massively controversial megaproject on which Ottawa and B.C. are not on the same side.
The federal government approved Site C in 2014, and is now a co-defendant in an application by the West Moberly First Nations to “halt construction on the province’s most costly civil works project in history,” the Globe and Mail reports. “The surprise decision by the federal justice department to sit on the sidelines was made just as Ottawa prepares to unveil its plans to fight [B.C. Premier John] Horgan’s government’s bid to stall construction of a different energy megaproject—the Kinder Morgan pipeline expansion.”
While the timing may be a coincidence, the Globe states, “there is frustration in Ottawa that Mr. Horgan has followed through on his election commitment to stop the pipeline project by taking a reference case to the courts, seeking the authority to limit the transport of heavy oil.”
The West Moberly application is set to be heard this July, and BC Hydro has already acknowledged a $610-million expense after missing a deadline to divert the Peace River. The communities’ civil suit argues that the dam violates its treaty rights, and seeks an injunction until its claim can be resolved—a process that would take a year or more. That delay would lead to major cost overruns and thousands of layoffs.
Until now, the West Moberly First Nations “have faced three opponents in court in their multiple attempts to stop the Site C dam—British Columbia, its Crown corporation BC Hydro, and Canada,” the Globe notes. “Their lawyers were stunned when the federal justice department filed its response to the injunction application in B.C. Supreme Court. ‘Canada does not oppose’ and ‘takes no position’ on the application, the court documents state.”
That was Chief Roland Willson’s cue to urge B.C. to follow suit.
“It feels kind of odd and makes me wonder what they’re up to,” he told The Canadian Press.
But even so, “the Premier can meet with us and our federal counterparts to work out how best to wind down work on Site C until the question of Treaty infringement is finally decided,” Willson said in a statement. “Canada has laid down its weapons. Now, it’s time for B.C. to disarm. Let’s put the lawyers away and try diplomacy.”
Caroline Theriault, spokesperson for Environment and Climate Minister Catherine McKenna, said Canada will still defend federal approval of the project, even though it was based on an environmental assessment that McKenna has said is fundamentally flawed, CP reports. “The federal environmental assessment process for the Site C project has already been upheld in other court actions,” Theriault said.