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B.C. Accused of ‘Dereliction of Duty’ in Site C Approval

British Columbia’s failure to consider alternatives to the mammoth Site C hydro project was a “dereliction of duty,” veteran public servant Harry Swain told DeSmog Canada in an exclusive, in-depth interview published this week.

There’s a whole bunch of unanswered questions, some of which would be markedly advanced by waiting three or four years,” said Swain, the former deputy minister of Industry Canada and Indian and Northern Affairs Canada who chaired the federal-provincial review panel for Site C. “And you’d still be within the period of time, even by Hydro’s bullish forecasts, when you’re going to need the juice.”

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The dam was first proposed and rejected in the early 1980s, DeSmog reports, but B.C. approved it [2] in mid-December. “If built, it will be the largest public infrastructure expenditure in the province’s history,” Gilchrist writes. “The dam is facing six legal challenges, including one that alleges that Cabinet erred in dismissing key portions of the joint review panel’s findings on the project.”

DeSmog reported Wednesday [3] that the interview “sparked a firestorm of activity” when it appeared Tuesday. Environmental assessment specialist Martin Olszynski of the University of Calgary Faculty of Law called Swain’s comments unprecedented.

“To the best of my knowledge, this is the first time that a panel member has spoken about a previous report in this manner,” even though “the course of actions taken by the B.C. and federal governments in this case is not atypical,” Olszynski said. “They very often will ignore, or pay only lip service to, the recommendations of their expert panels. If you talked to other people who have served on similar panels—if they were willing to talk—they might express similar frustration [4].”

Swain made clear he was speaking on his own behalf, not for the panel.