Mr. Speaker, I rise this evening to pursue a question that I initially asked on October 10. The Minister of the Environment responded to my question. It has been catalogued tonight under aboriginal affairs, but it really touches on a number of key questions. It touches on energy policy, environmental impacts, and first nations rights. The issue is that of the proposed Site C dam.
When I asked about this dam on October 10, the federal government had not yet rendered a decision in response to a joint federal-provincial panel that reviewed the project.
This is an extraordinarily large megaproject. Some people are perhaps not aware of it, but British Columbians certainly know about it. This project is expected to top $8 billion in costs. It will flood over 5,550 hectares along an 83-kilometre stretch of the valley. It is an extremely controversial project. The question I asked on October 10 related to the opposition to this project from Treaty 8 first nations in Alberta as well as from the Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs and B.C. first nations.
A few days after I asked the question, the federal government committed to approving the Site C dam.
I see that the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of the Environment is indicating that he will be responding to me this evening, and that is very good news indeed.
Here is the problem. The joint environmental review panel found as a matter of fact that if Site C goes ahead, there would be significant environmental damage that would not be capable of mitigation. As well, the panel found that there was significant damage to the exercise of traditional and first nations rights, including fishing rights, hunting and trapping rights, and other customary uses of this land. These too could not be mitigated. This runs directly contrary to first nations treaty rights and to rights that are protected through the Constitution. Furthermore, the nature of aboriginal rights in title has been consistently upheld in the Supreme Court of Canada.
Since the government approved the project, several first nations have now taken the matter to court, as have residents within the area. The Treaty 8 first nations, including the Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation and the Mikisew Cree First Nation, both of which are in Alberta, as well as Treaty 8 signatories in northern British Columbia, have launched lawsuits against this project. Their contention—which I think is unassailable, but we will see what the courts have to say—is that they were never adequately consulted.
Site C is simply not needed. Even B.C. Hydro admits that it does not have a need for the power that would be generated from Site C, at least not for quite some time.
The joint federal-provincial panel was also clear that the economics of this project are dubious and would put the Province into debt, and that the Province and B.C. Hydro failed to adequately consider other forms of cleaner generation, which numerous economic studies say would provide more benefits to British Columbia, particularly for the first nations involved.
It is a matter of respecting first nations that we say no to Site C.