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Trudeau government signals support for Site C dam, grants two permits

Site C's opponents hoped Justin Trudeau would back them. But this week, his Liberal Government signalled its support for the controversial dam by granting two key permits to B.C. Hydro.

'This project is a clear violation of treaty rights,' says Green leader Elizabeth May

Esther and Paul Pedersen stand on the edge of the farm they stand to lose to the Site C dam, now under construction on the Peace River below. (Betsy Trumpener/CBC)

Justin Trudeau's Liberal Government has granted two crucial federal permits for Site C, a controversial mega dam project in northeastern British Columbia. 

The permits allow B.C. Hydro to continue construction work on the giant dam on the Peace River near Fort St John.

B.C. Hydro says the permits were issued this week by the Department of Fisheries and Oceans and Transport Canada and relate to fisheries and navigable waters.

"It's very critical to have them as the project moves on and Site C is on time and on budget," said B.C. Hydro CEO Jessica McDonald.

Construction underway

Construction on the $9 billion dam has been underway for almost a year, with about 1,500 workers already on the job in B.C.

Hydro says the dam will provide a long term, sustainable source of clean energy and keep power prices low. 

But the dam is actively opposed by local landowners, some First Nations, and many environmentalists and academics.

The dam will flood a valley 80 kilometres long, submerging homes and farms, a highway, and traditional indigenous land.

Site C opponents hoped Trudeau, with his interest in treaty rights and the environment, would support their cause.

It is agonizing to witness the starting gun for a race between bulldozers and justice- Green Party leader Elizabeth May Source

Opponents still hope to stop the dam through court action, including a treaty rights case to be heard by the Federal Court in September. 

Green Party leader Elizabeth May said she's disappointed the Liberal government approved the permits before the court rules on First Nations rights.

'Agonizing' to watch, says Green leader

"It is agonizing to witness the starting gun for a race between bulldozers and justice,"  May said. "This project is a clear violation of treaty rights."

Once completed, electricity from Site C could power half a million homes a year and could also provide power to proposed LNG projects.

Site C will become the third hydro-electric dam on the Peace River, which  flows into northern Alberta.

With files from Richard Zussman

About the Author

Betsy Trumpener

Reporter-Editor, CBC News

Betsy Trumpener is an award-winning journalist and author. She's been covering the news in central and northern British Columbia for more than 15 years.