VICTORIA — BC Hydro is on track to lose more than $1 billion over the next four years by paying private companies to generate electricity the province doesn’t need, New Democratic Party energy critic John Horgan said Monday.
“BC Hydro’s fiscal situation is dire,” Horgan told reporters, offering his assessment of numbers released by the Crown corporation last week, which projected an energy surplus for the next 10 years. For the coming year, Horgan pointed out, the surplus will be so large it could power 472,000 homes.
The Sun reported last year that British Columbians paid $676 million for IPP power in the year ending March 31, 2012 — more than twice the price of imported electricity at that time.
Horgan said the problem stems from contracts signed by the B.C. Liberal government that now force BC Hydro to buy energy from independent power producers at above-market prices, despite the fact the Crown corporation is predicting a 10-year energy surplus.
“That’s a tragedy for BC Hydro and it’s a calamity for ratepayers who have already seen their rates go up in the neighbourhood of 36 per cent over the past number of years,” said Horgan, adding the problem could lead to a price shock for consumers.
The BC NDP may finally coming to their senses on Site C Dam. On the heels of the release of new documents from BC Hydro in recent weeks, the Official Opposition is calling into question the crown corporation's proposed 1,100 Megawatt hydropower project. And so it should.
Reacting to the latest numbers from the crown corporation - which show heavy losses and a 10-year projected energy surplus due to inflated private power contracts - Energy Critic and Deputy Leader John Horgan noted, “On the surface of this information, Site C certainly would not be needed in the next couple of years...I’m confident that in the first two years of an NDP government we won’t be building Site C.”
Horgan predicted a billion dollar loss for Hydro over the next four years and skyrocketing power bills for ratepayers, laying the blame on the Liberal Government's disastrous private power (IPP) policy, which has forced the utility to purchase more power than it needs - at over double the market price - from private river power operations.
Site C would be the third major dam on the Peace River in northeast BC, flooding an 80 km stretch of the valley, affecting over 20,000 acres of forest and agricultural land. The project is steadfastly opposed by farmers, First Nations and conservationists for its impacts on agricultural land and the environment.
Moreover, it has been clear for some time that the province doesn't need the power from the dam; rather it is required for major ramping up of natural gas and mining operations, as Premier Christy Clark has acknowledged.
It is wary of not stepping on the toes of First Nations who have signed onto to Liquified Natural Gas (LNG) plants to export BC's gas to Asian markets via tanker from the coast - operations which could partly depend on the added power of Site C
Horgan's recent comments, while still refusing to shut the door on Site C, mark a change in tone for the NDP. Now, months before a provincial election that will revolve to a significant degree around issues of energy and the economy, they are publicly stating their intention to punt the project for at least two years.
They should be ready to go even further. Saying no to Site C Dam is in the NDP's best interest for a number of reasons. Story continues after video below.
Cowboys and Indians
First of all, Site C is bad for both First Nations and for farmland - two core principles of the NDP. A party that pledges to respect to First Nations and which founded the Agricultural Land Reserve should take very seriously the opposition of local Treaty 8 First Nations and Peace Valley farmers - who have banded together, in an alliance some have billed "Cowboys and Indians".
We face a food security crisis in this province, producing just 40% of our food needs. We plainly have no energy self-sufficiency crisis, with a decade-long projected electricity surplus. Flooding thousands of acres of farmland for power we don't need is foolish - and that's a message the NDP should be able to sell to the public.
The NDP is understandably concerned about appearing "open for business" in order to woo voters who formerly shunned them as fiscally reckless and rotten for the economy. A decade later, their opponents have fared worse during their time in government. But old labels die hard, and you can be sure the Liberals will stake their campaign on purported fiscal and economic superiority.
Which is precisely why the NDP should reject Site C.
BC Hydro says Site C will cost a mere $8 Billion, making it one of the most expensive government infrastructure projects in Canadian history. But dams the world over are especially susceptible to cost overruns. The World Bank found that of 70 large dam projects it has funded, the average overrun was a whopping 27%. So let's call it $10 Billion - plus decades worth of financing costs.
And that's if Hydro can actually find a way to build the dam. Serious questions have been raised by local landowners about sloughing and the structural integrity of the dam.
The NDP can claim the higher ground economically by brushing off this costly, risky mega-project which we don't need.
Subsidizing Big Industry
Site C proponents like Energy Minister Rich Coleman crow about the jobs the dam will create - but most will be temporary and go to out-of-province workers. There's already a labour shortage in Peace country. Remember, this is where controversy erupted recently at a Tumbler Ridge coal mine which bypassed Canadian workers altogether by importing its labour from China.
If Coleman's contention is that Site C will create jobs by powering new energy and mining development, that raises another important question. We currently subsidize large industrial power users, charging them half or less the rates small businesses and consumers pay for hydro power. If most British Columbians knew this (which they don't...yet), how comfortable would they be footing the bill for Site C through their tax dollars and much higher power bills for years, all so gas and mining companies can get a break?
The NDP should be prepared to say no more taxpayer-funded dams to subsidize the fossil fuel and mining industries. I'm confident they will find this is a popular position with the electorate.
All in all, Site C Dam is a costly boondoggle for taxpayers and Hydro rate payers which would destroy thousands of acres of vital farmland over the opposition of local citizens and First Nations. It's the wrong project at the wrong time for the wrong reasons.
This one should be a no-brainer for the NDP - enabling them to look strong on the environment, respectful of First Nations and of rural British Columbians, progressive on food security - and fiscally and economically shrewd.
In today's political climate in BC, that's a winning combination.
My congratulations on your new posting. These two papers need all the help they can get.
I’m an octogenarian now – I love that word because it’s more descriptive than "senior citizen" and because no one I knew in my 40s would have bet a plug nickel I'd ever get this far.
As a lifetime British Columbian I go back a long way. As a youngster I was a Tillicum mostly because The Province gave you a neat faked silver totem pole as a badge. The magic words were "Klahowya , Tillicum", which my cousin said came from Indians saying to Hudson's Bay employees, “Clerk how you?”
I doubt that but have never heard of a better answer
I didn't join The Sun's Uncle Ben club because my Dad hated The Sun - in those days there was real rivalry!
I remember some of the great writers of that day – Eric Nichol, Jack Scott, Harold Weir (a rabid royalist) and I even read Sir Michael Bruce, whose taffy-nosed columns used to get under everyone’s skin.
I would like to talk about more modern times.
Back in the 70s I ran for the BC Legislature and as I awaited the election I couldn’t wait to read Marjorie Nichols in The Sunas night after night she kicked the crap out of the NDP government, especially Dave Barrett.
When I was elected it seemed as if Marjorie had had a brain transplant as now she was hammering the hell out of the Socreds and Bill Bennett!
I asked myself how Marjorie had changed so dramatically until the light went on – it wasn’t Marjorie who had changed, it was the government!
As the days passed I noticed that Jack Webster, Pat Burns, Jack Wasserman, Denny Boyd, Garry Bannerman, Ed Murphy, Jim Hume, Barbara McClintock - indeed the entire political press were “unfairly” beating up on us.
After I left the government I realized that they were “holding our feet to the fire” and it made for a better, more responsive government. It was that obligation I adopted when in 1981 I went into radio.
In the nineties you will remember the NDP under Mike Harcourt took over for the next decade.
The print media, especially Mike Smyth of The Province and Vaughn Palmer of the Sun were merciless in their pursuit of at least a close proximity to the truth. There were two areas that stick in my mind – the fast ferries issue and Glen Clark’s dealing with a man trying to get a gambling licence, who did some work on the premier’s house.
These two and Les Leyne and Jim Hume, both of the Times-Colonist, were relentless in their pursuit of the facts and highly critical of the premier and other members of the government.
In 2001 it all changed as the Liberals under Gordon Campbell took power. The media suddenly started to avoid issues or give them a once-and-for-all treatment.
Let me be specific.
For the first time in my life, the environment has become an issue, perhaps the #1 in the province. In no special order, here are the main issues: loss of agricultural land due to the Gateway Project, fish farms, private river power, pipelines and tankers, and most recently "fracking".
Mr. Fisher, I ask you to look at your columnists and determine for yourself whether any of these questions have been canvassed – not well canvassed but canvassed at all.
Let’s start with fish farms. These have not been covered at all in spite of the terrible consequences of them including ruination of wild salmon! I invite you to find a critical word – indeed any word at all - in Smyth or Palmer’s columns in the last 12 years. You will note that your former editor of the Sun editorial pages, a “fellow" of the Fraser Institute, freely gave op-ed opportunities to the fish farmers' lobby, yet you’ll search in vain to see anything from, say, Alexandra Morton.
The so-called “run of river” policy has desecrated 75 rivers and proposes to do the same to hundreds more. These projects build a dam (they prefer to call them "weirs" but they are dams) which kill migrating salmon and resident trout and, in effect, permanently decimate the ecosystems that depend upon the river. You see, Mr. Fisher, these plants not only impact the fish directly but the entire ecology as they require roads and clear-cutting for transmission lines.
Let’s leave aside the environment and look at the economics.
I invite you to look at your columnists' work over the past 5 years and try to find a discouraging word about private power. There have been the occasional, very occasional, news story but your political columnists are and have been silent.
Let me pause and tell you that after I had raised hell on this subject, Province editor Wayne Moriarty phoned me and whined, “Rafe, do you think I tell my columnists what they must not write about?” to which I replied ,“You don’t have to, Wayne, you don’t have to.”
Let’s move on to the pipelines issue, especially the Enbridge proposal and the proposed new Kinder Morgan line. At the same time, let’s glance at the tanker traffic these two pipelines will need.
These are both huge issues. The issue isn’t the risk of spills, Mr. Fisher, but the certainty of them. Even the Federal Environment Ministry (scarcely known to be tree-huggers) says that these spills are inevitable.
But, you may well ask, surely these spills can be cleaned up?
First let’s deal with the proposed Enbridge line, which is more than 1,000 Kilometers long and passes through the Rockies, the Rocky Mountain Trench, through the Coast Range then through The Great Bear Rainforest. When a spill occurs, how the devil will Enbridge get men and machines in to the spill area?
Mr. Fisher, it’s even worse. It doesn’t matter.
Enbridge had a huge spill into the Kalamazoo River in July 2010 and it hasn’t been cleaned up yet and never will be. Access to the spill site posed no difficulties but cleanup certainly did.
The cargo is what they call dilbit or diluted bitumen, product of the Tar Sands, which in itself is the world’s largest polluter. With ordinary bulk oil one can get to a lot of it by “rafting” which, as you would imagine, is surrounding it, localizing it then scooping it up.
Unfortunately, within a very short time after a dilbit spill, the bitumen separates from the diluent and sinks like a stone. Not only will Enbridge be unable to get to the spill, even if it could they would be helpless to do anything of consequence.
Again, Mr. Fisher, it’s not a matter of “if” but “when”. The consequences of a spill are too awful to even contemplate. Whether down Douglas Channel from Kitimat or through Vancouver Harbour from Burnaby the consequences of a spill will be horrendous.
Yes, with double hulling there will be fewer accidents, the operative word being fewer. As we know from the BC Ferry Queen of the North calamity, where there is a possibility of human error, tragedies will happen.
I’m sorry to have been so long-winded, Mr. Fisher, but my point is that Postmedia's coverage of the matters mentioned has been pathetic and journalistic critique, let alone criticism, has been nonexistent.
Read this story from the Vancouver Sun's Larry Pynn on a long list of environmental incidents relating to private river power projects in southwest BC - unearthed through a recent freedom of information search by the Wilderness Committee. (Jan. 23, 2013)
The independent run-of-river power sector is in regulatory disarray, following inconsistent rules designed to protect fish and with provincial officials hard pressed to crack down due to lack of staff and resources, freedom-of-information documents show.
The Ministry of Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations states in a staff report approved by Julia Berardinucci, director of resource management in Surrey, there were 749 non-compliance incidents from a total of 16 hydro plants in southwest B.C. in 2010.
They included 313 incidents related to ramping (fluctuating water levels), 292 to not notifying government official of problems, 101 to not fulfilling mitigation requirements, and 43 to not maintaining in-stream flow rates.
Flow rates ensure there is sufficient water for fish downstream of power plants, while ramping rates (typically associated with the shutdown of a power plant for maintenance or an unanticipated failure) ensure water levels fluctuate gradually to not strand young fish.
“There has been a lack of resources (staff, database tools) … to track/monitor compliance at various facilities,” ministry engineering assistant Charlene Menezes writes in a freedom-of-information document dated March 29, 2012.
“Ultimately, there is limited compliance and enforcement of the water use obligations.”
Menezes’ report recommends, in part, a compliance monitoring program and a database to track incidents of non-compliance.
Gwen Barlee, the Wilderness Committee policy director who obtained the documents, said in an interview Tuesday that the documents confirm that the run-of-river sector “does not have proper oversight and can’t even meet low environmental standards.”
She described the 749 incidents of non-compliance as “mind boggling” and noted, for example, that non-compliance at the Furry Creek hydro plant near Squamish continued for 2.5 months but was reported as just one incident.
“This is the result of a government that has backed off enforcement … and the ability of government employees to regulate industry,” she said.
Paul Kariya, executive-director of Clean Energy B.C., which represents run-of-river projects, said the industry “is trying to do better … and where we can improve — and we’re always in a learning mode — yes, we’re all for it.”
I never understood why then-Premier Gordon Campbell hired John Doyle as BC's Auditor General in 2007. Was it for show? Was he under the illusion Doyle could be controlled? A deputy A G in Australia with a reputation as a thorough, tough defender of the public interest, Doyle seemed like a poor fit for an administration built on secrets and shady accounting practices - as he would soon discover.
Doyle's imminent departure, after a special legislative committee decided recently not to renew his six-year contract, is less surprising, but comes a great disappointment, nonetheless.
Throughout his time serving the province, John Doyle has been a bloodhound hot on the trail of myriad multi-billion dollar scandals emanating from behind the closed doors of the Campbell-Clark government. From failed forestry policies and bogus accounting at BC Hydro, to uncovering runaway MLA expenses and tens of billions of dollars of hidden taxpayer liabilities, Mr. Doyle has had the public's back from day one.
From his very first report - a scathing indictment of Liberal-led changes to tree farm licence regulations which drew a bizarre, foaming-at-the-mouth response from Minister Pat Bell, Doyle hasn't been afraid to plant his shovel in the dunghill of BC Liberal policies.
Doyle took aim at the government's forestry policy again in 2012, finding that its incompetent timber supply management over the past decade has severely undermined the future of BC's forestry industry. "The audit found that the ministry has not clearly defined its timber objectives and, as a result, cannot ensure that its management practices are effective," a statement from Doyle's office noted. "Furthermore, existing management practices are insufficient to offset a trend toward future forests having a lower timber supply and less species diversity in some areas." And that was putting it politely.
Doyle's most potentially explosive project is the ongoing investigation into the secretive decision by the Liberals to break with government policy and pay the $6 million legal bills of of Dave Basi and Bobby Virk, following their guilty pleas in connection with the BC Rail trial.
As Doyle discovered, by 2011, the Liberals had stashed over $80 Billion in taxpayer commitments above and beyond the provincial debt (which they've also lifted by some $20 Billion during their tenure), by classifying them as contractual obligations instead of conventional debt. That figure includes some $53 Billion in reckless, overpriced, unnecessary, completely secret private power contracts. To the taxpayer concerned about the health of province's finances, it makes little difference what you label it. The plain fact is the BC Liberal government has jacked up your long-term liabilities by something like $100 Billion in just a decade. All while crowing about their fiscal reliability and economic prowess.
It is also worth noting that the Liberals have never once received a passing grade from Doyle's office on their annual financial report.
The NDP expressed outrage at Doyle's ouster, with Caucus Chair Shane Simpson saying on the announcement, "I think it's petty and it's vindictive and I think it reflects a government that doesn't have confidence in its own leadership style and its own management." I wonder, though, if privately they too aren't breathing a sigh of relief, knowing they won't be under his all-seeing magnifying glass when they take the reins in Victoria this May.
Interestingly, Doyle is not the only public watchdog in this country hired by tight-lipped leaders, only to become the bane of their existence. Other examples include Parliamentary Budget Officer Kevin Page and Canadian Auditors General Sheila Fraser and her replacement Michael Ferguson, who together shot down Stephen Harper's F-35 program.
Whatever the reason for pushing out such an effective civil servant (we'll never know because the decision was made in secret, naturally!) Doyle's departure is a tremendous loss for the BC taxpayer and should cause every citizen to question this government's motives as we head into a provincial election.
John Doyle did his level best to lift the veil on the most secretive administration in this province's history. Now, just imagine how they'd behave without him peering over their shoulder.
The Government of BC has been on a borrowing and spending spree for about eight years. A lot of this is being done using the “Public-Private Partnership” model (P3) of which the former Premier Campbell was exceedingly fond. In fact, he was such a leading proponent in Canada that the commercial interests behind the use of the P3 approach made him their honourary chairman.
The associated debt from all this activity has been shielded from the public’s view. It was and is about pretending that long-term contracts are not the same as long-term debt, hence not needing disclosure as such.
At the end of fiscal year 2003/04 (March 31, 2004), total provincial long-term debt was reported to be $37.735 billion and total liabilities $52.951 billion. The latter figure includes the long-term debt at the time, plus another roughly $15 billion in other contractual commitments such as current year payments towards P3 infrastructure projects like highways, bridges and public transit projects. By fiscal 2012 the two values were $50.193 billion and $70.358 billion, respectively. Since a liability is something we all easily understand, that means, according to the “unaudited” statements of our Government, our liabilities increased by 33% over the nine year period.
To be clear, the current year figure does not represent our total long-term non-debt liabilities. That would be akin to one's total credit card debt, while the current year figure would represent the annual interest payments due on that card. BC's total contractual obligations, for things like private river power projects (IPPs) and P3 projects, stood in 2011 at over $80 billion dollars (again, on top of the over $50 billion provincial debt) - a remarkable increase of $46 billion in just five years. In a 2011 report, the Auditor General highlighted this troubling figure, stating, "In our view, government should be providing better disclosure of these obligations."
Over the period of 2003/04 - 2011/12, our provincial GDP increased by 45%. Not too shabby, even after accommodating the “dead cat bounce” of fiscal 2011/ 2012. What about total revenues in the same period? They were reported to have increased by 41%.
So why the inability to achieve a balanced budget in the past four years and now?
The most obvious answer to this question is a problem of accounting and full disclosure. BC's Auditor General John Doyle reports to the Legislature annually. His task is to examine the proffered financial statements and judge them as to their being in compliance with the appropriate accounting standards or not. Non-compliance is signaled by his use of the term “qualified”. In his report dated December 2012, Doyle indicates, “While qualified audit opinions are rare in the private sector, government has had 13 audit qualifications in its summary financial statements in the last 17 years.”
Being such a polite person, the A G passes over the fact that since first coming into Government, the Liberals have never made an acceptable accounting report. It is exceedingly difficult understanding the public’s tolerance of this kind of devious behavior.
So where does that leave BC citizens? Somewhat ill-informed is the easy answer - and perhaps a bit nervous as well.
An example of the problem of non-disclosure is at BC Hydro. A consequence of the Government creating the impression of a pending electricity deficit has caused the corporation to contract with private interests (IPPs) to provide electricity. Supporting this has been energy demand outlooks that invariably proved themselves to be serious exaggerations with the passing years.
The provincial recorded domestic demand has hovered at about 50,000 GWhrs per year over the past decade. From IPP contracts, BC Hydro now takes in about 15,000 GWhrs that it previously provided from its own generation facilities. By this mandated program, the Government of BC has caused about 15,000 GWhrs of $25 per unit of electricity to be idled and replaced by 15,000 GWhrs of $90 per unit (and trending higher) from IPPs - a breathtaking example of private interests plundering the credit worthiness of BC Hydro and the Province.
In 2005, BC Hydro had no residual debt carried in their “Regulated Asset Accounts” (a contradiction in terms). These accounts - in theory only - allow the utility to borrow money for capital projects against planned rate increases for customers. The amounts in these accounts were meant to be short-term matters that would disappear each year as they became part of the long-term asset base. Against good financial judgment these deferred debts then started to increase. They are now about $3 billion and are estimated by the Auditor General to further grow to $5 billion by 2017.
But hold on here. Because the IPP contracts were declared secret by the Government, there is still the need to recognize these 20-40 year contractual obligations as hidden long-term debt. Various estimates abound with a general consensus that the total is about $40 billion. Making this business even more shameful is the absence of public evidence that BC Hydro is earning asset ownership in the course of paying out these contracts. And again, that roughly $40 billion in IPP contracts comprises only about half the over $80 billion in contractual obligations BC faced as of 2011.
The following chart prepared by the BC Auditor General captures the dynamics of debt and equity changes at BC Hydro in the past ten years. In one sense, the financial statements of BC Hydro are like icebergs, only disclosing a fraction of the full legal burden that has been loaded onto the unsuspecting shoulders of BC Hydro ratepayers and BC citizens.
What is shown here is a metaphor for what is possibly the financial condition of the Province as a whole, if full and honest disclosure were to prevail.
Who knew what and when?
Nearly two years ago, the credit rating agency Standard and Poor's delivered an analysis of the financial conditions of all Canadian provinces. The authors explicitly stated concern over the increasing debts of the provinces.
Just like BC's Auditor General, they were not fooled by “tricked out”, non-complying financial statements. The S&P folks went on to advise that provinces needed to do three things. For starters, they needed to reduce budgets for education and health care. The third thing needed was to increase revenues, hence the HST.
We hear nearly daily about how the BC Government is pressed to meet the needs of the first two categories. As to revenues, the BC Government deliberately reduced revenues from parts of the corporate sector, preferring instead to seek more “consumption” style fees and taxes from the general population. Even from these punitive measures, the province’s total revenues flat-lined after 2007 and that is why a balanced budget has been impossible to achieve. In fact, when non-cash revenues are stripped, the revenue vector is a diminishing one (see the Auditor General’s remarks on page 5 of his December 2012 report).
The BC Government has imprudently and willfully abused the credit worthiness of the Province to the point where there is simply too much debt for the revenues available. Many projects were done on the basis of want, not need or affordability.
In turn this means that those who have lent the money did so knowing that our publicly owned assets were to be collateral. When it came to financing the new Port Mann Bridge, the Government had its first taste of its maxed-out credit card condition.
Without quick action to find revenues, the situation can only deteriorate more rapidly as the servicing of the growing debt ramps up, concurrent with decreasing revenues, particularly in the form of natural gas production royalties.
Erik Andersen; Economist: December, 2012
Sources: BC Auditor General BC Ministry of Finance; Office of the Comptroller General S&P Canada; Credit Rating Services
Wendy and I, exercising a habit of some years now, are further depleting our kids' legacies and will be away until January 10, starting with 20 days in the Caribbean then 4 days in Boston visiting friends.
It’s been an interesting year in the environmental field.
Opposition to the Enbridge Northern Gateway project is massive and I predict the same situation will prevail against the proposed Kinder Morgan expansion. In fact, this is the first time in my memory that the environment has been the #1 issue. In fact, one of the signs is that neither the government, nor sadly, the opposition want to come to grips with several major environmental issues. The federal government is beyond all hope and may have to be stopped by massive civil disobedience, which no doubt will come.
All of us who are now waiting in the trenches must, in my opinion, pay considerable homage to those who have fought before us when the public was not so concerned. They were branded as “tree huggers” by many who now have learned that they were in fact heroes.They indeed cleared the pathway to public awareness of what lay ahead if we didn’t learn from their experience.
We - that is to say those not committed to the philosophy of the Fraser Institute and its in-house newspaper, the Vancouver Sun - know that without fail large companies who wish to invade our wilderness and oceans lie through their teeth constantly and without exceptions. This doesn’t make us communists or even socialists - neither of those two styles of governance have been much in synch with matters environmental, with Russia and China being in a class of their own when it comes to ecological indifference - at best.
I believe that many British Columbians know that we’re not talking “left” and “right” here but “right” and “wrong”.
A very good example was my Roast in November 2012 in the WISE Hall in East Vancouver. As I noted on the occasion, many in attendance that night would rather have been caught in a house of ill-repute just a few years before. Perhaps the leading indicator was the folks of West Vancouver who fought so hard to save the Eagleridge plateau from the degradation of the wildlife habitat and then took a bus down to the East Delta Agricultural Hall to help protest against degradation of agricultural land, Burns Bog and other wildlife preserves by the expansion of the Deltaport project and South Fraser Perimeter Road by corporations and the government. The meeting was addressed by people from both the right and the left. It was a moment of great symbolism which simply is not understood well enough by both major BC parties, especially not by the Liberals.
Environmentalism is not shrill protest, for protest's sake, based on political objects rather than evidence. People have seen and heard with their own eyes and ears what is happening with fish farms, private power projects that have all but bankrupted BC Hydro; they’ve seen farmland destroyed and looked at the record of pipelines and tanker companies; they have not only assessed the risks of catastrophes to come, but also realize the consequences that will flow. They have come to ask, "is it worth taking any risk if the damages will be catastrophic and permanent?"
I think that slowly but steadily the public has come to realize that money is no answer. What does it profit the province if they get billions of dollars but lose their wilderness as a result? In Biblical terms, what does it profit a man to gain the entire world but lose his own soul?
And the soul of the province, how we live, how we look at ourselves and how we look at our legacy has become a hugely important factor.
How much are our wild salmon worth?
What price on our rivers and the ecologies they sustain?
Is there any financial arrangement that will compensate for the loss of our coastal fauna and flora as well as the people who, for centuries, have been sustained by those resources? Incidentally, a recent UBC study found that a single oil spill from tankers on BC's coast could wipe out all the economic gains of the Enbridge pipeline.
If we lose our farmlands, is there a price that will offset that? Will the farm cease to be the underpinning of our way of life? Is money going to buy us the food we need?
There is this notion that we must continue to “progress”, which is code for "money talks and when it does one should bow down in grateful obeisance to the god Mammon and forever hold our tongues."
I reject that notion. We can progress and prosper without placing our entire outdoors at the certain risk of destruction. Other prosperous democracies have managed to survive without screwing up their environment as the people of BC are being asked to accept.
In the May election in 2013 we have what may be our last chance to stop right wing governments, mad economists and soulless corporate bloodsuckers from desecrating our beautiful land.
There is good news in the environment field and, for some reason the Fraser Institute-driven Vancouver Sun won’t talk about it - nor will the Province. The reason they won’t?
Because it is a triumph of the people over monetary and Establishment interests.
Private power producer AXOR, under subsidiary Purcell Green Power, planned to dam and divert Glacier and Howser Creeks in the Purcell Wilderness in the Kootenays, along with two other nearby rivers. Well, to the surprise of many, the Environmental Assessment Office has terminated the Environmental Assessment of the project, noting the company has failed to address concerns about fish and other questions raised by the public.
What does this mean?
Montreal based Axor must go right back to square one if it wants another chance and I find it difficult to believe that with all they have sunk into this project they would want to do it all over again.
Damien and I spent time in Nelson speaking against this project but if you think this decision was because of us - think again and stay with me.
It was, I think, the last public hearing I attended when the company sent a suit with an arrogance that stank the joint out as he talked down to the audience as if they were simple minded yokels.
Damien and I sensed that after that meeting that this application might be in trouble.
It was in trouble and all the credit goes to the citizens who never quit the fight.
It came to a head when the company, required to hold public meetings, didn’t choose Nelson for the site but Kaslo, a town with about 1,000 residents that was difficult for many to access. That only angered and energized the public and over 1,100 people went to the hearing, more than the entire population of Kaslo! (watch video below)
It became clear that the public simply would not tolerate these dams and that they would defy the law and go to prison by the hundreds if it came to that.
The entire population of this province should take heed of this courage, for it shows what can happen if the opposition refuses to buckle under the jackboot of the company and the government.
Here is a second and extremely important aspect of this case which, to my knowledge, has not been noted and should be.
Companies and government have long paid lip service to the proposition that they cannot unduly interfere with “significant” fish values, which has been taken to mean migrating Pacific salmon.
Not, I must point out, that migrating salmon bothered private companies so that they avoided placing their cruel dams where salmon runs did exist - one need only look at the Ashlu River to see how little the corporation/government cared for any aspect of the environment.
Well, the Glacier/Howser rivers have no migrating Pacific salmon, leading Axor to believe that it was a slam dunk.
The assessment folks surprised them for they demanded more information on and wanted to know what would happen to the Bull Trout (actually a char and perhaps the same as Dolly Varden) of no commercial interest and, I believe, about the resident Cutthroat trout (a Pacific salmon, again of no commercial interest).
This creates an entirely new ballgame, for almost every river and stream in the province carries Bull Trout and resident cutthroat and often non-migrating Rainbows.
Does this case create a precedent?
That’s hard to say because no hearing binds a subsequent one. It does create, however, a very substantial new arrow in the quiver of opponents of so-called run-of-river projects and raises another point - if resident fish of no commercial value are to be protected, what about other fauna and flora which depend upon the ecosystem that the river or stream in question supports?
What about the bears and birds; what about the trees and other plants? Are they not important too, just like the resident fish?
The decision by the Environmental Assessment Office has, I should think, sent a message that they are taking the entire river and the ecology it supports as important matters to consider - at least that’s what we all hope.
Let me tell you about the standards that prevailed in my years (1975-81) in the Bill Bennett government. And, I must say, in the Barrett government before it. Now, mark you, I’m not talking about what policies they supported but the integrity of the premier and his ministers.
I had Coleman’s job and the first thing I did was check my small RRSP and found I had a few shares in Hiram Walker Distillers, which I promptly sold at a small loss.
Of more importance, in 1978 I was greeted by a headline in the morning paper alleging that I had interfered in a hearing before the Rentalsman (the arbiter for rental disputes at the time) who came under my ministry. There wasn’t a particle of truth in it but the Premier gave me 48 hours to deal with it.
It transpired that a judge, hearing an appeal from a decision by the Rentalsman, heard a witness say she had “heard that the minister himself got involved in the case”.
The Rentalsman publicly said that I had had nothing to do with it and had never interfered with his office. I hired a lawyer, now Supreme Court Justice, who within the time limit prevailed upon the judge to withdraw his remarks and say outright that there was no evidence at all that I had even known about the matter let alone interfered in it.
My seat in cabinet was jeopardized, quite properly, by those two matters.
When Minister Jack Davis was being investigated for fraud the Premier promptly sacked him. The standard is not, you see, reasonable doubt but “is the minister under a cloud of reasonable suspicion?” This principle, one of the foundations of democracy, is not well known to the public nor, it seems, to the Campbell/Clark government.
What has this got to do with environmental matters?
Plenty for this government is going to represent us on pipeline matters, tanker matters and many other concerns we all have about our environment.
The killing of the HST has involved the premier trying to make the best possible deal with the feds when the tax expires just a month before the next election.
Thus the essential question arises: When the feds approve the various pipelines proposed without even the usual sham of an environmental assessment process, what will Premier Clark be doing? Will she, in fact, take favours from the feds and promise not to interfere in return? Indeed, has she already done this?
Are she and her ministers going to fold and do as their federal masters demand in fear of recriminations?
There are some, no doubt, who say that the feds should have their way as they speak for all Canada. That ignores the very principle under which Canada governs itself - namely a division of powers under the Constitution Act (1982), which follows the BNA Act (1867), which underlies a federal state as is the case in Germany, Australia and the USA.
Prime Minister Harper is no doubt going to approve these pipelines and the consequent tanker traffic using the omnibus clause giving him that right under section 91 - “Works connecting provinces; beyond boundaries of one province; within a province but to the advantage of Canada/or more than one province”.
The province retains a number of powers it can use such as the right to issue licenses - especially water licenses - to protect wildlife, including non-migratory fish and to protect its shoreline.
Will Premier Clark have the courage of our convictions and say, “Prime Minister, these pipelines will be subject to our rights to protect our environment under Section 92 and they will be rigorously enforced?"
Or will there be under the table “deals” made linking pipelines and tankers to other issues between Ottawa and Victoria? Such as the HST? Such as selling our constitutional rights for money from Ottawa’s share of royalties and other taxes collected?
There is no middle ground - just as a woman can’t be a “little bit pregnant”, we either stand up for our environment or we don’t.
In short - forgive the expression - will she have the balls to stand up to the feds or, more likely, will she and her ministers try to find some middle ground?
What we need is an honest government of honest men and women protecting us against the predations of greedy corporations, the government of China and the raw uninhibited capitalism of Prime Minister Harper and his toadies from BC.
Clearly, standing up for our rights and honest dealings based on principles is not this government’s strong suit.
The Wilderness Committee, Canada's largest member-based environmental organization, honoured hall of fame broadcaster and co-founder of The Common Sense Canadian Rafe Mair with its annual Eugene Rogers Award for outstanding contribution to environmental protection in BC at its AGM this past weekend. Mair, who joins a long list of distinguished recipients of the annual award going back to its inception in 1992, received the tribute "for his outspoken determination to protect BC’s environment and wild fish from threats posed by salmon farming, private hydropower and proposed oil pipeline projects."
Mair's colleague, filmmaker Damien Gillis, accepted the award on his behalf as he was unable to attend. In a statement read by Gillis, Mair said, "I cannot express how thrilled I am to receive the coveted Eugene Rogers award from an organization I have so long looked up to as the premier environmental organization in British Columbia." Noting the many ways in which he and the Wilderness Committee have worked together on issues of mutual concern, Mair added, "I know that, again and more successfully, we will fight our battles side by side."