BALDREY: Energy projects to strain NDP/Green pact

The resiliency and strength of the pact between the NDP and the B.C. Green party that allows the New Democrats to hold power will likely be sorely tested this fall, and it won’t be over political fundraising.

While Green party leader Andrew Weaver was pretty much ticked off – make that “teed off” – over the recent revelation that Premier John Horgan will hold a $500-a-head “cash for access” event (in this case, a golf tournament) later this month, their personal relationship remains strong.

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At least, that’s what Weaver tells me. He insists that all is well between his party and the ruling NDP, and the dust-up over the golf event aside, there is little reason to think otherwise.

Horgan has promised to introduce legislation when the house sits next month that will provide sweeping reforms when it comes to political fundraising and the B.C. Greens (and likely the B.C. Liberals as well) will support it.

But two critical issues are coming into view on the near horizon, and I suspect the Greens aren’t going to like where those issues appear to be headed one little bit. One of them can be laid directly at the feet of the NDP, while the other has more to do with Ottawa.

The NDP government has sent the first issue – the Site C dam – to the B.C. Utilities Commission for review, but with terms of reference that greatly restrict what the commission can come back with in terms of recommendations.

The commission has been instructed to provide “advice” on three options for the dam: proceed, suspend construction or terminate the project entirely, with full remediation of the site.

In coming to any conclusions to provide that advice, however, the commission must be guided by a number of principles and rules, not the least of which is that it must stick to the economics of the dam (which takes any concerns about the environment, First Nations’ rights or agricultural impact off the table).

The economics alone are staggering: more than $2 billion spent so far, another $2 billion or so in signed contractual obligations and, if it is scrapped, another $1 billion or so for putting the giant work site back into its original landscape.

As well, the commission must use B.C. Hydro’s most recent electrical load forecast as the basis for its advice, and when looking for any alternatives to Site C for a source of power, other clauses greatly reduce the chance of the commission looking to wind, solar or natural gas power as a replacement.

The terms of reference clearly state that “grid reliability” is a key objective in weighing the importance of any energy project, and about the only reliable form of energy in this province is hydroelectric power.

Add it all up and it looks like the deck is clearly stacked for the commission to advise the dam should be completed.

Then we come to the second issue that may strain the NDP/Green relationship: the Kinder Morgan pipeline expansion.

Officially, the NDP oppose the pipeline, but the government’s language has noticeably softened and Attorney General David Eby says a legal analysis concludes the government cannot legally stop or delay the many permits the pipeline will require, thus removing what many thought was the government’s only weapon from its arsenal.

Horgan says he’s still studying options, but it’s far from clear that he has any more power to stop the pipeline. And it’s remarkable that in two separate meetings and phone calls with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, the Kinder Morgan project hasn’t even come up for discussion.

Trudeau has vowed the pipeline will be built, and the response from the Horgan government – other than Eby’s dismissal of the permit denial option – has been almost one of silence.

Construction is supposed to begin in the fall, and it now appears the NDP government is just crossing its fingers and hoping that a First Nations court challenge to the pipeline succeeds.

And so Weaver may find himself propping up a government that could fail him on two key Green priorities. If so, we’ll see if the bromance between him and the premier remains as strong as it appears to be today.

Keith Baldrey is chief political reporter for Global BC. Keith.Baldrey@globalnews.ca

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