Disgraced engineering giant SNC Lavalin and a former BC Hydro chief engineer were among the big winners when the provincial utility awarded C$171 million in sole-source, “no-bid” contracts for its controversial Site C hydropower megaproject, according to an exposé published by The Narwhal last week.
The contracts, issued over an eight-month period ending in July 2020, included three deals worth $27 million to SNC, on top of $131 million in sole-source contracts BC Hydro had already awarded to SNC to design “core components” of the Site C dam, The Narwhal reports, citing documents obtained through a freedom of information (FOI) request. In 2013, the news story notes, SNC was hit with a 10-year ban on World Bank contracts due to fraud and corruption on overseas projects.
In December 2019, the utility also issued a $309,000 no-bid contract to TE Little Consulting, a firm led by former senior staffer Tim Little, who was to serve as an “independent engineer” on the project. TE Little received a similar contract for $360,000 in December 2018.
Meanwhile, the cost of the intensely controversial project on B.C.’s Peace River has gone through three budget increases, skyrocketing from $6.6 billion when then-premier Gordon Campbell announced it in 2010 to an estimated $10.7 billion in 2017. “But that was before the disclosure last July of geotechnical problems so profound that BC Hydro says it doesn’t know how to fix them, how long it will take, or what it will cost,” The Narwhal writes.
Earlier this month, Energy Minister Bruce Ralston received what he called a “helpful” status update on Site C from former deputy finance minister Peter Milburn, but said he wouldn’t comment on the details until the report went to cabinet. After that meeting Thursday, Premier John Horgan said the province had commissioned two new expert studies to look into the site’s geotechnical problems, adding that there were several “decision points ahead” for the provincial cabinet, The Narwhal writes.
In an alert to supporters that day, Dogwood Communications Director Kai Nagata said ministers were split on the future of a project he described as a “huge gift from taxpayers to international fracking companies”.
Meanwhile, Democracy Watch co-founder Duff Conacher told Cox a public inquiry should be convened to look into all direct-award contacts on the project. “In the big picture, [BC Hydro’s] contracting out process violates all the rules of good government spending,” he said. “This pattern of contracting out has been seen in so many past boondoggles and white elephants of government spending.”
Cox places the total value of BC Hydro’s sole-source contracting on the project in the hundreds of millions of dollars. She says the precise total is hard to tie down because most of the FOI responses she’s received over the last four years have been redacted.
The latest list contains 19 contracts worth nearly $50 million to companies owned by or associated with Treaty 8 First Nations that signed impact benefits agreements with the utility.