Run-of-river has had its run

Former B.C. premier Gordon Campbell’s plan for run-of-river generators was a mistake. It left BC Hydro in debt and with power it can’t use. The NDP government plans to let some of those independent contracts expire.

image: Energy BC –
A 1 MW run of river generator.

B.C.’s auditor general, Carol Bellringer, found that BC Hydro has accumulated $5.5 billion in deferred expense accounts. The government plans to write down $1.1 billion of those accounts on BC Hydro’s books.

While BC Hydro rates will increase, the increase won’t be as much as expected says Minister of Energy Michelle Mungall:

“We were committed to finding the best possible reduction, as much reduction as we possibly could from the existing plan under the B.C. Liberals, and we have looked in every corner to find every penny that we can pinch,” Mungall said at a news conference. “We have found that and were able to reduce the rate increases by 40 per cent (Globe and Mail, February 14, 2019).”

The NDP government has also pledged more oversight over BC Hydro by the utilities commission. That will include less interference by government, I hope.

Lack of oversight is what got BC Hydro in trouble when Campbell decided in 2002 to push his ideology of privatization on BC Hydro. It was a clever move in some respects because he could carve out some of BC Hydro’s public generating facilities to privately run generators while claiming to promote “green power.”

BC Hydro was forced to pay a higher rate for electricity generated which included run-of-river hydro, wind and biomass power.  According to a report commissioned by the government entitled “Zapped,” those contracts are expected to cost the utility $16 billion over the next 20 years.

One problem with run-of-river hydro is that it generates power in the spring when rivers are full and not much in the winter when electricity is needed for heating.

We don’t need all the 131 independent power projects that BC Hydro has signed on to. In the past 12 months, BC Hydro has let three energy purchase agreements expire without renewal and more are targeted.

One of those targeted is with the Hupačasath First Nation on Vancouver Island. They are still in debt from the $14 million investment made in their run-of-river facility in 2005. It was supposed to be a model for Indigenous clean-energy opportunities. Now, BC Hydro says it may not renew the contract in 2025 – just as the project is expected to finally deliver profits to the community.

The NDP will face a lot of flack by changing the course of BC Hydro, including protests from some Indigenous communities, from conservatives like the BC Liberals who believe that private companies can do a better job, and from environmentalists who think small is beautiful and that BC Hydro is a corporate monstrosity.

It makes sense to me that a public utility can deliver electricity at a cheaper rate than a private one because no profits go to external shareholders. We are the shareholders of BC Hydro and barring government interference, we should be the beneficiaries. It’s our dam power.


Liberal’s treaty deal with Snuneymuxw sounds very familiar

B.C.’s Attorney General Geoff Plant would feel a whole lot better if he didn’t have to explain new treaties in light of last year’s controversial referendum.

The latest draft treaty with the Snuneymuxw people looks like a winner.  Until you compare it with results of the referendum that cost taxpayers $9 million dollars and angered first nations, that is.

The Snuneymuxw treaty is a first.  If ratified, the B.C. Liberals will have negotiated the first treaty through the B.C. Treaty process – – which cost $500 million over 10 years spent with nothing to show.  The former NDP government couldn’t get anywhere with it.  They negotiated the Nisga’a treaty outside the process.

Even the Chief of the Snuneymuxw has been won over. Here’s what Chief John Wesley Jr. had to say two years ago.  His motion to the  Assembly of First Nations stated that “the Government of British Columbia’s proposed referendum will incite racism and only serve to create a divisive and poisoned environment for treaty negotiations (July 17, 2001).”

Here’s what Chief Wesley has to say now. “There are breakthroughs. We’re glad of them. We worked really hard to get to where we are today,” he recently said.

So why aren’t the Liberals more vocal about this success?  Until a few weeks ago, Attorney General Plant seemed reluctant to even talk about it.  It wasn’t until CBC’s reporter Justine Hunter started to investigate that Plant even commented publicly.  When asked about the proposed treaty, Plant said:

“We had committed to a certain degree of flexibility around some issues. That I think has sent a message that we’re serious about concluding treaties (April 8).”

Ah, flexibility.  I would call it a compromise on the referendum principle of self government.  Question 6 of the referendum,  which asked  “Aboriginal self-government should have the characteristics of local government, with powers delegated from Canada and British Columbia.  Agree or disagree?”

More than 80 per cent of those who returned ballots agreed with the concept of municipal governments for first nations treaties.  Premier Campbell thought that the results of referendum were significant.

“After many years of being shut out of the treaty process, the people have finally had their say – and their message to first nations and to all Canadians is unmistakable,” Campbell said on July 3, 2002.

The unmistakable message to B.C.’s first nations was that they could expect tough bargaining.  They could forget about powers of self government like those in the Nisga’a treaty which was negotiated by NDP government.

The Nisga’a treaty proposed substantial powers of self-government–including an autonomous legislature with lawmaking powers over adoption, citizenship and land management.  It transferred 1,992 square kilometers land and $165.7 million to the 5,500-member Nisga’a band in northern B.C.

As opposition leader in 1998, Campbell disliked the proposed treaty so much that he filed a suit against the provincial and federal governments. He argued that the self-government provisions of the treaty amount to an amendment to the Canadian constitution and the NDP didn’t have a mandate to negotiate the treaty.  “People should make those changes, not politicians.”

So, now that the Liberals have the voice of the people, what does draft treaty recommend?   It looks quite familiar.

The Snuneymuxw treaty proposes substantial powers of self-government–including an elected government with lawmaking powers over citizenship, post secondary education, adoption, and land management.  It will transfer 47 square kilometers land and $75  million to the 1,300-member Snuneymuxw band in on Victoria Island northern B.C.  The Snuneymuxw treaty looks very much like the Nisga’a treaty on a smaller scale, including the self governing powers of a nation-state.  If Gordon Campbell were still in opposition,  would he take the government to court for failing to follow the referendum principle of self government?  Maybe that’s why the Liberal’s are reluctant to talk about it.

Not that Attorney General Plant was willing to admit it. “What we think we’ve achieved in Snuneymuxw is a form of self-government that is consistent with what the people of British Columbia asked us to try to achieve in the referendum campaign. . .,” said Plant (April 16 The Daily News).

The Attorney General should just forget the results of the confrontational referendum that was no more than a political exercise.  Treaties will go a lot smoother without it.

Look for Campbell to approve Mazankowski’s health report 


When Canada’s premiers meet in Vancouver on Thursday and Friday of this week, Don Mazankowski’s recent report on the reform of Alberta’s health is sure to be on the agenda.


You might remember Mazankowski from the Conservative Mulroney government when it was tossed out in 1993.   Mazankowski left politics to join numerous corporate boards, including Gulf Canada.

In the Alberta context, the report’s recommendations are expected – –  including an expanded role for private health care delivery.  What is not in this report speaks volumes.

Mazankowski proposes an “expert panel” to study health care services to decide what should be covered and what should not.  Not a bad idea on the surface, since most would agree that our health care can no longer afford to be everything to everyone.

What he doesn’t say is who should sit on that panel.  It matters.  An expert panel made up of businessmen, like Mazankowski, would come up with a different list of services to be delisted than a panel made up of doctors.  I would trust health care professionals but not corporate leaders to make that difficult choice.

Mazankowski has been accused of a conflict of interest, since he is a member of the board of Great-West Lifeco Inc., which owns an insurance company.  But, you see, it’s only a conflict of interest if you consider the general public as being the beneficiaries of a public health care system.  If you consider that businessmen, like Mazankowski, are to be the beneficiaries of health care then there is no conflict of interest at all.

Another recommendation of the report is blending private and public health care in one system, to encourage more “choice, competition and accountability.”  But Mazankowski doesn’t suggest just how such a blended system would work.

And when I hear “choice, competition and accountability” as desirable qualities in any public service, I know the speaker means “privatization, inefficiency, and corporate profits.”

An efficient, effective health care system is what we already have.  “Universal, publically funded, provides better health care as measured by any outcomes – – lower infant mortality, greater life expectancy, for example,” says Anil Naidoo of the Council of Canadians. “The cost of Canada’s health care is one-half that of the U.S. and all are covered,” he continued.

In the U.S., 15 per cent have no coverage at all.  Health care consumers, otherwise known as patients, primarily want treatment that’s available when they need it.  They want effective health care that’s delivered in a timely fashion at a reasonable cost.

We don’t have health care delivered in a timely fashion.  You don’t have to look further than the federal government for the reason why.  Health care has been damaged through underfunding.

But it can be mended.  What Mazankowski’s report doesn’t say is that as soon as the door to health care if opened to privatization, it’s subject to Chapter 11 of the North American Free Trade Agreement.  That would allow the U.S. to purchase our health care services and make it more profits driven.

As a member of the Mulroney government that wrote NAFTA, Mazankowski knows this well.  His failure to mention this opening to U.S. competition is a deceptive omission.

The Mazankowski report is a convenient diversion for Campbell’s B.C. Liberal government.  While the spotlight is on Alberta, Campbell is quietly encouraging the diversion of public health resources for private use.  For example, CT machines at Vancouver’s St. Paul’s Hospital are being run after hours for anyone who can afford $1,000.

Why aren’t publicly funded hospital diagnostic machines being run 24 hours a day to reduce the backlog of patients waiting for their use?

“It’s a monopoly system basically. There’s no competition,” complains Jim Neilson about public health care.  Neilson is the former B.C. Health Minister for the Socred government.   Translation: not enough money is flowing into my privately owned MRI clinic in Richmond.  With Campbell’s government filled with ex-Socreds, I’m sure that Neilson’s words ring true in many right wing heads.

Premier Campbell has made it clear that he is prepared to cut deeply and hastily into public service.  Look for him to be nodding in agreement at the Mazankowski report and filling in his own solutions where it is silent.

Campbell has challenge ahead with party built from discontent.

We don’t know much about the B.C. Liberals except that after tomorrow, they will form the next government.

These Liberals have never been in power before and so it’s difficult to say what they will do.  The last  Liberal party in power in B.C. was from 1933 to 1941, with Premier John Duncan MacLean.  But you can’t compare these two Liberal parties.  Today’s Liberals are not the Liberals of sixty years ago — in fact, they are not even exclusively liberal.


The B.C. Liberals are an collage of Social Credit, Conservatives, Reform, and even a few liberals.  The remnants of these former parties coalesced  with the express purpose of defeating the NDP, and that’s what they will do.  They are a unite-the-right party that the Canadian Alliance and federal Conservatives should envy.

Premier-elect Campbell has kept a tight reign on his party, and so he should.  He doesn’t want maverick candidates blowing the election by saying stupid things.  Campbell has thrown out a few clues about what his party would do, such as the proposed referendum on Native land claims.

But this referendum is not going to happen.  Campbell will drop this contentious proposal to have British Columbians decide the fate of B.C.’s  minority Native peoples.  Most members of his party understand that such a referendum would be divisive.  Also, a referendum would delay the settlement of land claims that cost $1 billion a year in lost investment.

Campbell must bring together the factions of his party.  To please the liberal faction, he plans to proceed with the NDP plan to increase the minimum wage to $8.00 per hour, the highest in Canada.  This will not endear him to his business lobby.   To please the reformers, he plans to allow private insurers to take profits from the public insurance company, ICBC.

The problems start for the B.C. Liberals the day after his government is sworn in.  Then approximately 70 Liberal MLAs will want to have their voice heard in legislature.  When you have a party formed out of discontent with the current government, guess what you have after gaining power? Discontent.

I’d like to offer Premier-apparent Campbell some free advice.   Learn from the experience of the Canadian Alliance.  They were forged on discontent with just about everything: federal politics, western alienation, government intervention, and ex-leader Manning.

Forget about the notoriously fickle grassroots.   They want contradictory things.  The grassroots want reduced taxes and increased spending for health care.  They  want less government red tape and strict regulations for polluters of our air and water.  The grassroots want cheap goods and services and well paying jobs.  They want the government to get out of the way of free enterprise and a publicly owned hydro utility.  In short, voters want less government and the protection that government should provide.

Stockwell Day learned the hard way that you can’t depend on the grassroots.  If you live by the grassroots, you die by the grassroots.   Party discipline is the key.  Keep a lid on dissension and stick to party principles.  Of course, with the diverse political constituents of the B.C. Liberals, a set of coherent party principles are going to be tough to establish.

The B.C. Liberals can’t be complacent about tomorrow’s vote.  There is the danger that voters will think that the Liberal win is a done-deal and not show up at the polls.  On the other hand, supporters of the NDP and the Green party are motivated.  The NDP is fighting to form opposition party status and the Green party is riding a surging crest of popularity.   All of these factors will reduce the popular vote for the Liberals from the current 70 per cent to about 50 percent.  It’s still enough for a sweeping majority, leaving the NDP with a core from which they can rebuild.  The  Green party will elect the first member to legislature in North America.

Four years from now, there will be calls for the parties on the left to unite to defeat the Liberals.  One thing is for certain, B.C. politics will never be dull.