Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Benefits to First Nations Ignored - Tom Fletcher Column

This is from the Black chain of papers in BC. I am simply amazed at how this issue is being spun and how far people want to move it from review of what is happening.

Published: February 10, 2009 11:00 PM
Updated: February 10, 2009 11:34 PM

CAMPBELL RIVER – The prettiest sight on my visit to Toba Inlet wasn’t the spectacular view of the steep-sided fjord, or the waterfront dream homes and pleasure boats that dot the Discovery Islands clustered around it.

It was watching two workers, an aboriginal father and son, laughing and joking over a hearty lunch at Plutonic Power’s run-of-river construction camp. To use an overworked phrase, it looked like hope and change, from the sickening poverty and social decay of remote, jobless reserves.

The last time I spoke with North Island MLA Claire Trevena, she seemed genuinely moved by conditions on a reserve near Port Hardy. More than 20 people huddled in one house, as others became uninhabitable due to mould. Governments have a moral duty to build new houses, she said. Perhaps she’s not aware that this horror was caused by Indian Affairs uprooting people from their remote fjords and livelihoods in the 1960s, and moving them to new government houses.

Trevena was in Campbell River last week, joining her fellow well-heeled Quadra Islanders in trying to kill Plutonic’s $3.5-billion expansion proposal on neighbouring Bute Inlet. About 300 people packed a recreation centre on the edge of town, mostly to hear the loud, rehearsed voices of the B.C. Hydro union-backed campaign against private power development at an environment ministry open house.

Rafe Mair was flown in. His only contribution was a favourite coarse insult and a demand for a referendum on run-of-river hydro development. Gee Rafe, you mean like the referendum we had before building the Mica, Peace and Revelstoke dams? Have you compared their environmental impact to this run-of-river plan?

Vicky Husband struggled up from Victoria to talk down to the locals about the “giveaway of our rivers.” Apparently it’s inconsequential to this legendary forest campaigner that this project will generate nearly $40 million in property, school and water taxes.

It’s consequential to Powell River, where at this writing Catalyst Paper’s mill is still running. The company has pleaded with Plutonic CEO Donald McInnes to help keep its skilled workforce around, working on what comfortable islanders sneer at as “linear clearcuts” for power lines.

Catalyst has already served notice it won’t be borrowing millions to pay full local taxes on mills at Port Alberni, Crofton and Elk Falls, which are winding down until market conditions improve. It’s going to get worse before it gets better.

The Plutonic expansion would create the biggest run-of-river project in Canadian history, generating about the same power as the proposed Site C dam on the Peace. The hypocrisy of opponents was summed up by one NIMBY, who said Site C should be built instead. That’s an actual dam, not a diversion project that preserves and even enhances fish habitat, rehabilitating roads and culverts abandoned after decades of cut-and-run coastal logging.

After a long series of factually challenged outbursts about “old growth” and the visual pollution of usable roads, Homalco elder Daisy Hill was helped to her feet and made her way to a microphone with the help of a cane.

“You people probably have had jobs all your lives, have your own homes, have everything that you need,” she said. “We don’t have anything. Our people, the majority (are) on welfare, it’s sad to see that.”

A group of young people against the wall were dressed like they just stepped out of a Gap ad. One of them heckled. The brief warning he got from the aboriginal employment liaison won’t be printed here, but Gap boy kept quiet after that.

The Klahoose First Nation is being transformed by this project. Others will be too.

Factually Challenged

The factual inaccuracy displayed by Mair and Husband was typified by the moronic slogan sported on many lapel stickers: No Dam Way.

If you’re going to participate in this debate, a few things need to be established. First, they’re not dams. That’s important.

In his regrettable column on, Mair gets Plutonic Power’s name wrong and then falsely asserts that it is controlled by General Electric. In fact GE’s financial arm has a 49 per cent stake.

Then Mair reveals his core message. He’s still fighting Alcan.

Tom Fletcher is legislative reporter and columnist for Black Press newspapers.

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