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GEORGE: Why Site C doesn't make the cut

Image Credit: SUBMITTED/Chris George



Back in 1992, a group of researchers issued a report entitled "Finding a Balance of Values: An Ethical Assessment of Ontario Hydro's Demand/Supply Plan".

The intent was to circumvent the natural oppositional nature of discussions between First Nations and the proponents of various natural resource and hydroelectric projects in Northern Ontario and Quebec. They felt that if they could put forth a set of values to guide negotiations that all parties could agree to that it would save a lot of time and frustration.

The report was tabled as part of the environmental review process. It is unfortunate that Ontario Hydro withdrew from the process before the efficacy of this set of values was tested in practice. I think that the values they identified need to start being used in the decision making process for energy and resource projects here in British Columbia. These same five principles "...that a morally sensitive decision-maker would take into account..." should have been used when examining the decision to go ahead with Site C.

"A. The principle of welfare - that the effects of one's actions upon the welfare, including individual and collective interests, of all affected persons are morally significant."

The welfare of all of the people involved in government decisions should be respected. Part of being an MLA or MP is to learn to fairly evaluate decisions and decisions that are the best for the people you represent. It is a difficult job in today's governments, primarily because of the party system, but that doesn't lessen the moral weight that comes attached to these decisions.

"B. The principle of equal consideration - that equal consideration should be given to the individual and collective interests of all affected persons."

The principle of equal consideration simply fell by the wayside here. It may be that the citizens of the province will be well served by this decision, but it may easily be that we could all be worse off for it as well. All citizens in the province have not been accorded equal consideration in this decision simply because the former government decided to not allow the gathering of objective information with which to inform their decision.

C. The principle of equitable participation - that affected persons ought to have a say in what happens to them.

There is some basis to evaluate whether the principle of equitable participation was met or not. BC Hydro spent $8 million on a consultation process and didn't ask anyone local to the area a direct question about Site C. Given that the B.C. Liberal Energy Minister at the time said that it was the government's intention to build this project as early as 2007, long before any consultations happened, it is easy to see that there was no intention to really allow what anyone had to say during the consultations delay or stop the process. Equitable participation means having at least the possibility of having that consultation affect the outcome of deliberations. It was never the intention to allow the local opponents or the Dene Tha' ta have meaningful input into the deliberations.

D. The principle of distributive justice - that the distribution of benefits and burdens is morally significant.

The principle of distributive justice asks that the benefits and burdens be distributed fairly and in a just manner. Without knowing if the project was even necessary to meet our economy's need for power, it was impossible to say if this was even considered.

E. The principle of stewardship - that stewardship of the environment is important for the sake of both current and future generations.

The principle of stewardship could certainly have been applied to the entire fiasco. Without knowing what the alternatives are and having a comprehensive look at both Site C and the alternatives in the context of a new system plan from BC Hydro, we have no way of determining whether putting 5,340 hectares of land, some of it with high agricultural potential, underwater is something that will benefit future generations of British Columbians or not. It certainly isn't good environmental stewardship though.

These values represent a starting place in negotiations between two very different cultures that have opposing views on how humanity should be with the land base that supports them. Getting both sides to agree to use these values during consultations would go a long way towards building solid agreements.

Politicians have an obligation in a representative democracy. They must do their best to represent all of the constituents of their ridings, even those whose politics disagree with the politician's party's politics. Once an MLA becomes a Minister, this obligation then extends to all of the citizens of the province. By willingly not examining the facts behind all of the alternatives to Site C, the government of the day knowingly and purposely eliminated some citizens from this representation.

Values are a critical part of moral decision making. Our electoral process attempts to put people who share our values in positions to make important moral decisions on our behalf. This breaks down entirely when an objective fact is eliminated as an underpinning of those values. By not seeking shared values between politicians and electorate, and governments and First Nations, our political class is running and hiding from tough moral questions, the very questions we elected them to ponder on our behalf.

Making decisions in a transparent manner is desirable in a democratic political system. Gordon Hewart gave us this aphorism, “Not only must Justice be done; it must also be seen to be done”. The government owes the people involved consideration for their positions in the decision-making process, not just in the hoped-for outcome. It is clear that the welfare of the average citizen was not considered in this case by either the B.C. Liberals or the B.C. NDP.

— Chris George believes one measure of a just society is found in how well it balances fiscally conservative economics with social responsibility and environmental soundness in all of its living arrangements.

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