Opposition MLAs last week repeatedly sided with the Squamish-Lillooet Regional District (SLRD) and its call for a regional energy plan as they opposed provisions of legislation that would remove the authority of local governments to zone for independent power projects (IPPs) on Crown land.
But in spite of New Democrats' best efforts to shame the Campbell government into withdrawing the legislation, Bill 30 passed second reading last Thursday (May 11) and third reading on Monday (May 15). The latter vote was 42-32 in favour, with South Peace River MLA Blair Lekstrom the only Liberal to side with the opposition.
Susie Gimse, SLRD board member for Electoral Area C, said she was "disappointed" that a bill opposed by the Union of B.C. Municipalities (UBCM), the Lower Mainland Local Government Association (formerly Lower Mainland Municipal Association) and many others was on the verge of becoming law.
Gimse, a UBCM vice president, said if the bill is enacted, local government will be largely shut out of the decision-making process, diminishing the ability of citizens to influence IPP decisions.
"It's really the local government that the pubic has the greatest access to," Gimse said. "Now it's gone to another level and the decision making will primarily be with the bureaucrats in Victoria and even the MLAs will have very little ability to influence the decision. So the public's ability to influence these decision will be severely compromised.
"It's pretty heavy handed when you consider that there's really only one power project that hasn't received approval in this region."
Gimse added, "It would have been nice to see our MLA stand up on this one."
Joan McIntyre, MLA for West Vancouver-Garibaldi, said she voted in favour because she believes it's in the best interest of British Columbians to have what she called "clean, green" energy to ensure that B.C. will be a net exporter of power in the future. At the moment, she said, it imports some 14 per cent of its power supply.
McIntyre said local government won't be entirely excluded the decision-making process, but instead its input will considered earlier in the game as part of a single-decision-maker process.
She noted that the province has always had zoning authority over B.C. Hydro power projects on Crown land. The legislation just extends that authority to include projects proposed by independent power producers.
"I do fervently hope that there's a place for local government to participate in those provincial approvals," McIntyre said. "There's clearly a role for local government, and they'll be wrapped up in part of that federal and provincial approval process.
"I certainly understand local government perspective. I understand why she [Gimse] might say that. But I think there's a really pressing need for green power and for B.C. becoming sustainable in power and that this law was necessary for the provincial interest."