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BC Hydro hasn't tracked number of Peace Region residents working on Site C

Crown corp. hasn't kept tabs on per cent of local hires on mega project
Workers at the Site C construction camp in May. BC Hydro says it has not been tracking the percentage of Peace Region residents working on the $8.8 billion dam project.

Thousands of people dropped off resumes at Site C job fairs held in Northeast B.C. earlier this year, but 11 months into construction, the number of Peace Region residents working on the dam remains a mystery.

While BC Hydro is tracking the percentage of British Columbians working on the $8.8-billion hydroelectric project, it has not kept tabs on the number of workers who live in the region where it is being built.

"We have not compiled (the total number of workers who have a primary residence in the Peace River Regional District) for previous months," Site C spokesperson David Conway wrote in response to an email asking for a regional breakdown of the project workforce. "We are looking at compiling the information for future labour reports and we would be pleased to provide it to you once it's available."

The Crown corporation says its goal is to hire local workers first for Site C jobs. Between August and February, 65 to 82 per cent of the Site C workforce came from British Columbia, according to a news release from BC Hydro.

According to documents posted to the Site C website outlining the conditions of the main civil works contract, contractors must provide BC Hydro with weekly and monthly reports on the total number of workers on staff who have a primary residence either in the PRRD, in B.C., in Canada or outside the country. Peace River Hydro Partners won the $1.7-billion contract in December.  

How local workers and businesses will benefit from dam construction has been a key question in the debate over Site C.

Unemployment in Northeast B.C. has climbed steadily since the provincial government approved the project in December 2014 amid layoffs in the oil and gas sector. Some, including the BC Building Trades, argue BC Hydro hasn't done enough to ensure jobs on the taxpayer-funded project are going to B.C. workers.  

Fort St. John Mayor Lori Ackerman said local leaders expect they will see more detailed workforce figures as construction ramps up.

"Those numbers will be reported when they have them to the local governments here, but the project is really just starting to ramp up," Ackerman said. Site C's workforce is expected to nearly double by 2018, peaking at 1,500 workers.

Tony Zabinsky, president of the Fort St. John Chamber of Commerce, said his organization also hoped to see a regional workforce breakdown.  

"We've reached out to BC Hydro in the past to see what the local area content of the workforce at Site C is. We haven't heard back from them," he said.  

BC Building Trades Executive Director Tom Sigurdson said the project labour agreement proposed by his union would have ensured local hiring on Site C. BC Hydro has said a local hire provision would make it difficult to recruit labour and increase construction costs.
"When our contractors are on site…there's a local hire provision," he said. "Anyone who's qualified and resides locally is going to be on the site first, followed by British Columbians. When you haven't got that as a provision in the contract, anybody can be hired."  

Construction on Site C began in July 2015. The project will flood around 83 kilometres of the Peace River Valley and generate 1,100 megawatts of electricity.