FORT ST. JOHN – BC Hydro provided a response today to an Amnesty International report on the effects of energy development in northeast British Columbia, specifically in relation to the Site C Clean Energy Project.
Amnesty International has raised a number of important issues with respect to the resource economy, community services and broad determinants of health and wellness for both Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal communities. At BC Hydro, we care about these issues as well, and have developed extensive mitigation measures through consultation with Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal communities, as part of careful project planning, and are also engaged in ongoing monitoring during construction and operations. Additional measures specific to each Aboriginal community are part of existing agreements and ongoing discussions.
A recently issued backgrounder describes community mitigation measures already implemented during the first year of Site C construction, and our Regional and Community Benefits information sheet describes the variety of measures to support local communities. Many of these measures directly support women, children and families in the Peace region, including: providing funding for new childcare spaces, committing $1.1 million to local non-profits, building a total of 50 units of long-term affordable housing, contributing over $1 million to regional and Aboriginal skills training initiatives and providing funding for additional local policing.
In fact, local workers make up approximately half of the employment on the Site C project. There are also approximately 200 Aboriginal workers currently working on site, and, to date, there has been significant involvement of Aboriginal businesses in site preparation work, including security services, clearing and road and bridge construction. So far, BC Hydro has committed more than $100 million in Site C procurement opportunities to Aboriginal companies, in addition to the procurement opportunities offered by our contractors, who also directly engage Aboriginal companies. An example is our camp medical clinic, which is being provided by Halfway River International SOS Medical Ltd., a partnership between Halfway River First Nation and International SOS.
Amnesty International's report does not consider our specific project plans or proactive measures taken by BC Hydro to address socio-economic and community concerns related to the Site C project. Had they asked us, we would have been pleased to discuss our project and our approach to addressing community concerns. We welcome Amnesty International to contact us at any time.
The Site C Clean Energy Project is a hydroelectric dam and generating station under construction in northeast B.C. The project is being built to meet long-term electricity needs in B.C. Once complete in 2024, the project will provide clean, reliable and cost-effective electricity for more than 100 years.
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Response to Amnesty International's Recommendations to Industry
Amnesty International, in their report titled Out of Sight, Out of Mind, makes several recommendations to industry in northeast British Columbia. Below, we provide a response to each industry recommendation.
We agree that it is important for industry to consider its impacts, and opportunities to support healthy communities. Through careful planning for the Site C project, BC Hydro engaged with the public, community organizations, Aboriginal groups, local governments and provincial and federal agencies, to understand their concerns and to listen to their ideas and solutions. We identified actions that we could take to address concerns, and to provide a safe work environment for all workers, one that supports diversity in the workplace and that offers opportunities for Aboriginal workers and businesses to benefit from participation in the project.
Amnesty International Recommendation: Develop employee codes of conduct to address potentially harmful impacts on host communities of actions and behaviours undertaken outside of work hours and away from job sites.
BC Hydro Response:
- BC Hydro has an employee code of conduct applicable to all employees, requires all Site C workers to attend worker orientation and requires all residents of the worker lodge to read and abide by a code of conduct:
- All Site C Project workers are required to take orientation training, which includes information about diversity, respect for neighbouring communities and local road safety.
- To address community concerns about a transient workforce in the community, BC Hydro is providing a full service lodge during construction, which will reduce the use of community housing by transient workers. While the lodge offers many amenities, we are also providing a scheduled leisure shuttle service to town to support positive economic interactions for shopping, recreation and leisure activities.
Amnesty International Recommendation: Support the health and wellness of employees by ensuring access to physical and mental health services, including addiction treatment, and allow working arrangements that enable employees to access such services.
BC Hydro Response:
- BC Hydro provides it employees with an employee and family assistance program, which provides employees with access to counselling, addiction and family support services.
- BC Hydro requires its main Site C contractors to provide their workforce with an employee assistance program, ensuring Site C workers will also have access to counselling, addiction and other support services they may need.
- BC Hydro has contracted Halfway River International SOS to provide a free on-site health clinic in the Site C worker lodge. Through the clinic workers can access primary health care, bridge their care to their own family doctor, and, when required, can be referred to other health professionals to support their overall well-being. Northern Health recommends this type of clinic as a best practice.
- BC Hydro has provided a range of fitness, recreation, leisure and health options in the worker lodge – along with healthy meal options and quiet sleeping quarters. These facilities support workers in maintaining a healthy lifestyle while away from home.
Amnesty International Recommendation: Take steps to diversify the workforce to include more women and Indigenous peoples, by making employment more accessible including by developing flexible schedules and childcare supports.
BC Hydro Response:
- In Northeast B.C., BC Hydro is working proactively at the community level to build skills, offer training and work experience, and hire local people (directly or indirectly through our contractors). BC Hydro has publicly committed to continuing efforts toward strong relationships and Aboriginal inclusion through a Statement of Aboriginal Principles that we are actively implementing at all levels of our organization.
- For example, so far this year we have participated in 46 Aboriginal career / community events, and have been active in building career awareness through dedicated campaigns. In addition to the Northern Lights College bursary program donation ($1 million), we have financially supported 8 individuals through their training and hired 15 new Aboriginal hires in northeast B.C., so far this year. Several recent programs underway with Treaty 8 First Nation communities include; Partner in Employment and Training Assistant (supporting HR coordinators), Moberly Academic Plan (essential skills training), Blue Flame Kitchen skills, Electrofishing operator certificate program.
- At Site C, approximately 200 Aboriginal persons employed to work on Site C with our contractors.
- BC Hydro recognized the challenge in accessing childcare in the Fort St. John area, and BC Hydro has provided School District 60 with $1.8 million to create a new childcare centre with 37 new spaces in the Fort St. John area to help working families. Importantly, this new facility will include infant and toddler spaces which are often more difficult to find.
Amnesty International Recommendation: Work with local service providers to ensure that corporate investment in the host community is aligned with local needs and priorities, paying particular attention to the specific needs of Indigenous women and girls.
BC Hydro Response:
- BC Hydro spent time during the project planning phase getting to know the community, agencies and non-profits organizations that provide important community services. A recently issued backgrounder describes community mitigation measures already implemented during the first year of Site C construction, and our Regional and Community Benefits information sheet describes a variety of measures which support local communities. Several of these measures directly support families, women and children in the Peace region, including: providing funding for new childcare spaces, committing $1.1 million to local non-profits, building a total of 50 units of long-term affordable housing, contributing over $1 million to regional and Aboriginal skills training initiatives, and providing funding for additional local policing.
Some additional details on some of our community mitigation measures:
- BC Hydro targeted specific early donations toward organizations that support emergency and transitional housing in the community, and often supporting families in need. These included a $200,000 contribution to the Salvation Army, and $25,000 each to Meaope Transition and Skye's Place Second Stage Housing.
- BC Hydro has launched an $800,000 non-profit fund, which has been framed by the local community to focus on vulnerable populations. Funding allocation decisions will be made by a regional decision-making committee to ensure that our community investment of $100,000 per year during construction is directed to the community's priorities and needs.
- BC Hydro responded to questions about repurposing the camp for affordable housing with a proposal to partner with BC Housing to build a total of 50 purpose-built affordable housing units in FSJ. Ten units will be provided during the construction phase, increasing to a total of 50 affordable housing units left as a legacy at the end of Site C project construction. Many of these units will be 2 and 3 bedroom units, which will be able to serve the needs of families for affordable housing.
- BC Hydro provided a total of $1 million to Northern Lights College to establish a bursary program – half of these funds are reserved for Aboriginal students. Northern Lights College administers this bursary to ensure the awards can be responsive to student needs.
Amnesty International Recommendation: Collaborate with local and provincial governments to enable accurate tracking of the number and location of temporary or transient workers and labour camps.
BC Hydro Response:
- We agree that this type of information is helpful to local and provincial governments. BC Hydro is providing local governments with the total number of bed nights used in the camp in an annual report, as well as information about local apartment rental use by our workforce, usage reports for our health clinic to Northern Health, and ongoing forecasts of our expected workforce to local governments and agencies to support them in their regular planning cycles. We would be pleased to provide this information to any local or provincial government agency at their request.