As It Happens

Liberal MP Ouellette breaks with his government over B.C. hydro dam support

Liberal MP Robert-Falcon Ouellette breaks ranks with his government's approval of a BC dam -- saying he's not convinced local First Nations were properly consulted and that lack of consultation could violate the UN declaration on indigenous rights.
Liberal MP Robert-Falcon Ouellette / a portion of the Peace River Valley that would be flooded by the proposed Site C dam. (CBC / Peace Valley Environmental Association)
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Liberal MP Robert-Falcon Ouellette has broken ranks with his government's approval of a BC dam project, saying a failure to consult local First Nations could violate the UN declaration on indigenous rights.

The Liberal MP for Winnipeg Centre says too many of his questions remain unanswered about the proposed multi-billion dollar hydroelectric dam project, known as Site C. It's expected to flood an 80 kilometre stretch of northern B.C. It also promises to create electricity to power half a million homes.

A map of B.C. Hydro's proposed Site C dam project (B.C. Hydro)

Ouellette spoke with As It Happens host Carol Off.

ROBERT-FALCON OULLETTE: I met with a group who came to Winnipeg in this caravan of Indigenous people from the Peace River area and with some constituents who are advocating on their behalf. And I heard their concerns...and they felt they hadn't been consulted properly about the building of a dam on their traditional territory and the flooding of some of their land as well. And so I said I would take their concerns to Ottawa and I would advocate on their behalf.  

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CAROL OFF: The Transport Minister, Marc Garneau, has approved the proposed dam and says it's for the greater good. Do you disagree with him?

RFO: Well ... one of the things we said we would do is respect the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. And in that declaration is the idea of prior and informed consent. And so from what I can tell...I haven't seen a vote that was held on this issue. And what's the long term benefits? I understand that there's going to be jobs for a few years. But once the dam has been built and the jobs are gone...once you've handed-out the beads, what do you have that's going to benefit the community in the long term.

CO: At the same time your government has gone ahead and issued a permit back in July. What do you think of that?  

RFO: Well I am going to have a respectful conversation with the minister and obviously I would like to get all the information for how they came about to their decision. But I think we should be really careful, because we are starting and trying to build a new relationship with Indigenous people.

An illustration of B.C. Hydro's proposed Site C dam project. (BC Hydro)

CO: What stands to be lost if this 'Site C' dam in British Columbia is built?

RFO: There'll be flooding in a large number of lands. From what I understand there's also some burial grounds in some of these lands. Also, these lands contain for people very sacred sites related to eagles and eagle nests. There's concern as well for the potential damage to fishing because of the disruption this may have on the river...and the ability for the fish to spawn and breed.

Liberal MP for Winnipeg Centre, Robert-Falcon Ouellette (CBC)

CO: Some of your colleagues like Jody Wilson-Raybould, a cabinet minister now, she had protested against this Site C dam in 2012. She said that, with it, the government was running roughshod over the rights of Indigenous people. So what do you think they should do...what advice are you taking back to your government?

RFO: I think that if we believe in the idea of nation-to-nation, we need to sit down with the First Nations involved and not just simply send representatives who have no real power. And make them feel satisfied that any decision that's made will respect who they are and will be able to preserve their culture and allow them to build a better future for themselves. So I will continue to advocate on behalf of the people of the Peace River.

CO: Even if that goes against the will of your government?

RFO: I gave my word.

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