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Most people know David Emerson as a politician of dubious repute. First sent to Ottawa as a Liberal from Vancouver Kingsway in the 2004 federal election, he was handily re-elected in 2006. Soon afterwards, however, he crossed the floor to become minister of international trade in Stephen Harper’s minority Conservative government, outraging most of the people who’d voted for him. The Tories hoped to persuade his constituents that they’d lucked out—instead of a lame MP in opposition, went the argument, they had a powerful cabinet minister in the new government—but the voters weren’t buying. The backlash ultimately put an end to Emerson’s life in elected office.
It didn’t end his brilliant career, which had begun in academe and flourished in both the public and private sectors. A former CEO of Canfor, the lumber company, he’d earned acclaim as trade minister for resolving the softwood lumber dispute with the U.S. When he chose not to run again federally in 2008, Premier Gordon Campbell asked him to oversee one of the most important but overlooked items on the provincial agenda—ensuring the future of our power supply.
As Paul Webster and John Cathro explain in their article about Emerson’s latest incarnation (“Power Broker,” page 48), much of Vancouver’s hydro power is generated at the Revelstoke Canyon Dam, which harnesses the Columbia River some 500 kilometres northeast of here. The power is delivered to the coast via an aged transmission infrastructure that desperately needs upgrading.
When the transmission lines were built in the 1960s, little attention was paid to aboriginal issues; consultation was cursory with the First Nations whose territories were crossed by the Interior to Lower Mainland line. This time around, the Native groups—61 different bands are affected—may well mount legal challenges; indeed, there is some question as to whether lawful rights of way were secured in the first place. The bands will no doubt be seeking full consultation, as well as compensation. As head of the B.C. Transmission Corporation, Emerson is thus faced with the daunting task of appeasing the First Nations while minimizing the cost of the upgrade.
And what does all this have to do with you and me? How well Emerson acquits himself will impact the cost of the hydro we use for many years to come.