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IPPs ‘bribing’ First Nations, Save Our Rivers charges

Klahoose First Nation accuses IPP opponents of ‘eco-colonialism’

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The official spokesperson for the Save Our Rivers Society told Whistlerites last Thursday that independent power producers (IPPs) are "bribing" First Nations.

Rafe Mair, a longtime B.C. radio broadcaster and former provincial cabinet minister, told a sparse audience at the Spruce Grove Field House that private power producers are bribing First Nations int o supporting their projects.

"(They're) putting in short-term jobs and training schools and all this sort of stuff, which tells you two things," he said. "First of all, money will always get the job done, and secondly, there's so much money in this that it's just a drop in the bucket.

"If I were one of those chiefs, I think I'd be very hard-pressed to turn to my people and say we're not going to take this."

First Nations are seen as beneficiaries of a number of independent, run-of-river power producers across the province. Many of them are situated within the traditional territories of B.C. First Nations and thus their members can access job opportunities associated with the projects.

The Squamish Nation, for example, has expressed its support for a run of river project on Ashlu Creek because its members can get work during its construction.

The Klahoose First Nation on the Sunshine Coast has also been a beneficiary of a run of river project. The First Nation endorsed the Toba Montrose project near Campbell River because it can provide the nation with "infrastructure and opportunity for economic development," according to a news release.

The Klahoose First Nation, meanwhile, issued a news release on March 20 in conjunction with the Sechelt First Nation blasting "independent power opponents" for failing to consult with First Nations.

"We find your complete and total failure to consult with First Nations on these matters to be offensive and contrary to the Supreme Court of Canada's clearly articulated decisions," the nations wrote.

"From our perspective and as historical stewards of these lands, your unwillingness to consult with us and predetermined opposition to these projects amounts to a modern form of eco-colonialism."

"Bribery" was just one issue that Mair touched upon in his talk, which he conducted alongside Joe Foy, national campaign director for the Western Canada Wilderness Committee. Other issues included the fact that electricity from these projects could be exported to the United States.

"It's not for us, it's for somebody else," Mair said. "Almost nothing comes back to B.C."

Power producers in British Columbia are linked in with American markets through the Western Interconnection, a power grid that extends from northern B.C. and Alberta down to Baja California in Mexico. Each power project has been said to act as a "battery" along the grid, feeding electricity into power lines that are then picked up as needed by consumers.

Run of river power projects are just one method of power generation that exists along the grid. There are also dams. Alberta also feeds electricity into the grid through power produced by natural gas and coal generators.

Mair said that independent power producers, as they're currently being constructed in B.C., are "not run of the river."

"I think the first thing we must establish is this is not run of the river," he said. "Run of the river is the old mill stream, a little wheel going around as the water goes down with no interference with the flow of the river."

Independent power projects are becoming a central issue leading up to the May 12 election. Opponents of the projects feel they amount to "privatizing" B.C. rivers. Proponents feel they're essential to meeting B.C.'s energy needs.

The Association of Whistler Area Residents for the Environment (AWARE), for example, has called for a moratorium on any new IPPs until a study can be done into their cumulative impacts.

Mair, however, has a more concerted view of the projects.

"I don't want a moratorium, I want a crematorium," he told his audience Thursday night.

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