Thursday, August 17, 2006

The two sides of the Alcan debate

Bill Good of CKNW took on the challenge of trying to put both sides of the current Alcan debate in Kitimat before the public today. Wondering aloud if the expansion will be a boom or a bust for the Aluminum city, Good brought a number of guests on to the show to make their points for or against the prospect of an expansion of the smelter, tied to power sales debate.

The discussion was featured on the Bill Good show, in the 9-10 am hour Thursday morning; Good had Trafford Hall municipal manager of the City of Kitimat and Robin Austin, the MLA for Skeena on in the first half hour. They used their block of time to explain why they think the recent announcement of a 2 billion dollar revitalization program for Kitimat Works, with its power sales rider included, isn’t quite the bonanza for the public that Alcan would have everyone believe.

Taking pains to make sure that the concept of economic expansion was not something they were against, they focused much of their discussion on the power sales aspect of the plan put forward by Alcan. Which they say will see surplus power sold to the province, which they don’t use to produce aluminum. They say this means that in their opinion, public power is being sold off to private interests.

Good followed up that discussion with those in favour of the 2 billion dollar expansion in the second half hour, who made their case for economic development and continued employment in the northwest.

Roger Harris the former MLA for Skeena and currently of the Kitimat Port Authority and the Ralph Sultan MLA for West Vancouver-Capilano took the pro development side of the argument. Suggesting that for Kitimat it was much much better to have 1,000 jobs for the next 35 to 40 years than a declining smelter with little hope of extending is life.

Harris took issue with the argument that the power generation prospects will actually increase with the new smelter in place, in fact he says that at times the amount of power required by the smelter will result in less power being sent to the B C Hydro grid.

The impression of Sultan and Harris is that it’s just another indication of the NDP making mischief in the province, trying to take us back to the days of no development, threatening to turn the province into a very small vision kind of place. This is telling in how the debate is being shaped along political lines not only in the northwest, but across the province.

Good also brought Paul Hemming of Alcan into the mix to bring forward the aluminum giants perspective on the roiling controversy. He said that the new smelter will only be able to produce the maximum amount of aluminum that its current generating availabilities will allow.

When they aren’t producing the maximum amount of aluminum then the power sales to the grid will kick in. He too stressed the belief that actually the result will be less power sold to the province than is currently in place.

His impression of the controversy is that the debate over the power aspect has not been fully explained, as in his opinion there isn’t as much power out there as the other side seems to believe there is. The mantra seems to be aluminum first judging by the timbre of the words of those in support of the new smelter.

Hemming feels that perceptions on the issue are not being explained properly and the two sides need to get together to try to deal with the facts of the debate and not the myths or emotions.

The fact both sides were featured in separate blocks of time tells you a lot about the current state of debate in Kitimat. Had all guests been featured at the same time, it’s doubtful that much in the way of information might have gotten out, but we imagine that the debate would have been rather lively; such is the state of their positions.

The one hour program didn’t solve the controversy over Alcan’s plans by any means, but it certainly crystallizes the two differing opinions. Giving the listener a better understanding as to what all the noise is about coming from Kitimat these days.

An item of interest for Prince Rupert was something that Roger Harris tossed into the mix as almost a throwaway comment during the conversation. Harris took advantage of his time on the show to boost the prospects of the Port of Kitimat, a group that he’s currently involved with. Harris suggested that the Port there could be a booming shipping centre in the very near future. That might be something that our local politicians and port officials might like to keep an eye on.

It would be interesting to know if the suddenly resurgent plans for the Port of Kitimat might have any impact on the future plans for the Port of Prince Rupert and possible employment for our city. Perhaps that might be a topic for another day.

For now you can follow up the Alcan debate for yourself by checking out the CKNW Audio Vault and selecting Thursday, August 17 and listening in at the 9 to 10 am block of time.

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