British Columbia

B.C. election could determine if ranchers get to keep home or lose it to highway

When the election results come in, Ken and Arlene Boon will find out if their home will be destroyed to make way for the Site C dam.

Ken and Arlene Boon's farmland is in the way of a contentious election issue: the Site C dam

Arlene Boon holds up a picture of her grandfather standing outside the home she and Ken live in today. The property her grandfather purchased in the 1940s was expropriated by BC Hydro to make way for the Site C dam. (Andrew Kurjata/CBC)

Days before the writ dropped to kick of B.C.'s election race, Ken and Arlene Boon were preparing to lose their home.

Their house, built by Arlene's grandfather in the 1940s, is directly in the path of a major election issue: the Site C dam.

Under the current construction schedule, the Boons have to move by May 31 to make way for a highway realignment being done to avoid flooding.

A stand of trees has been removed from what used to be the Boons property, before it was expropriated by BC Hydro. To their right are yellow stakes, purchased by people around the world to show their opposition to the Site C dam. (Andrew Kurjata/CBC)

As a crew arrived to move his shop to higher ground, Ken made a prediction about the campaign ahead.

"All we're gonna hear is, 'jobs, jobs, jobs,'" he said.

Twelve days later, B.C. Liberal Leader Christy Clark arrived in Fort St. John with exactly that message

"[Site C] is going to create thousands of good paying jobs, family supporting jobs," she said to cheers.

The Boons don't deny Site C means jobs.

They just wish they didn't come at the expense of the family home and farmland they hoped to pass on to their grandchildren.

The Boons are moving some of their buildings up to a portion of land not expropriated by BC Hydro. (Andrew Kurjata/CBC)

Arlene avoids talking politics with friends working on Site C, remembering they need to work.

"Had the oil patch been really booming right now, I would say there'd be a lot of those people that wouldn't even consider working down at the job site," she said.

As it is, 2,124 people are employed there — enough that Site C workers are getting their own polling station.

Meanwhile, job creation is the major issue in the riding of Peace River North, which stretches from Fort St. John north to Fort Nelson, where promises of an LNG boom have yet to materialize.

Listen to a discussion about the major issues facing Peace River North.

"Unfortunately, Site C was shovel-ready," Ken said. "Kind of like a distraction."

The Liberal candidate for the riding, Dan Davies, argues Site C is a necessary part of economic revitalization, needed to power jobs in forestry, mines and LNG.

NDP candidate Rob Dempsey, meanwhile, echoes his party's view the project should be paused and sent to the B.C. Utilities Commission for review, adding he'd like to explore using the region's natural gas for energy production.

By the end of June, BC Hydro will have spent just over $1.8 billion on the Site C project. (Christer Waara/CBC)

There are also three independents running in the traditionally right-leaning riding.

Businessman Bob Fedderly isn't convinced the dam's needed, while Taylor Mayor Rob Fraser said whether Site C moves forward is in the hands of the next government.

Both said their focus would be on getting more locals hired, if construction proceeds. 

Biologist Jeff Richert is opposed to the dam.

For the Boons, however, this is less a political issue and more a personal one.

Listen to the Boons talk Site C.

"I've never protested before in my life," Arelene said. "But when you believe in something so strongly, you have to stand up."

Even if they lose their home, Ken's looking forward to a time where fighting Site C doesn't dominate his days.

"One way or another, this has got to be it," he said.

Arlene, however, has a hard time thinking beyond election night and the certainty it could bring.

"When BC Hydro now comes to burn the house down or knock it down, I don't know how I'm going to take that," she said, breaking into tears. 

"It's not gonna be easy."

For more stories from northern British Columbia, follow CBC Daybreak North on Facebook.