I was having lunch (on me as usual) with my editor last week and we were wondering aloud why the Campbell government would possibly intentionally destroy our rivers and BC Hydro, a power company that’s the envy of North America. I mentioned to Dave that I believed it was a matter of ideology based on Campbell and the right wing think tank Fraser Institute being joined at the hip as well as the pocket book. I recalled for him an interview I had done some 15 years or more ago with then Fraser Institute president Dr. Michael Walker.
Why not do an article on it? He asked.
Now my deep instinct is to refuse point blank suggestions of editors, program directors and that ilk but since I had made this point many times during the last election, as I preached mainly to the converted, I had to agree that the idea had merit.
Permit me, for a moment, to lay out the logical consequences of the Campbell Rivers Policy. Private companies are encouraged by Campbell to desecrate our rivers to produce power which BC Hydro is forced to buy. Because nearly all this private power can only be produced during the spring run-off when BC Hydro has full reservoirs and plenty of power, and because there is no way of storing this private power, Hydro must export it at ½ or less what it paid for it. This is the lunacy I can find only one explanation for – far right wing ideology. (Of course, bankrupting BC Hydro to force the public to sign over its dams to big corporations would make Milton Friedman proud – and may well be the ultimate point of this ridiculous buy high/sell low scheme)
Now I must say that I’ve always liked Mike Walker. I don’t really know why I said that except so often critics are accused of having personal grievances and in fact I don’t. So there.
Back in the early 90s the Fraser Institute had published an article, I believe by Dr. Walter Bloch who then worked for them, arguing that rivers and streams ought to all be placed in private hands because, as Dr. Walker later put it, the private owners would take good care of them because they owned them. On my show at Radio Station X, he repeated this theory that private ownership would ensure the best available use of the river or stream.
I said “but Mike, history shows us that the best available use of a river is as a sewer for industry and/or agriculture.”
“No, no”, he replied. “it would be in the owner’s interest to see that the river was kept pristine so that all the fish and other living creatures could survive and prosper.”
To one who has fished rivers and streams all over the world this literally took my breath away.
“What”, I asked, “if I owned Rafe Mair’s Fishing Camp downstream from the huge Ajax Pulp Mill that dumped large quantities of black liquor into the river killing all the fish.”
Dr. Walker gave me that triumphant look of the righteous and smiled benignly at my stupidity and said “no problem, Rafe, you could sue them”. Evidently it does not occur to the “far right” that a lawsuit against a huge corporation is not very appealing to a small business owner. (I should add that I remember this interview particularly well because after the show Dr. Walker called me at my home to continue his fruitless efforts to convert me.)
Memories do play tricks, however, and I thought I’d better check and see if Dr. Walker had changed his mind without me knowing it. Lo and behold in a trice I had found a documentary called “The Corporation”, a 2003 Canadian film written by Joel Bakan, and directed by Mark Achbar and Jennifer Abbott. The documentary is critical of the modern-day corporation, considering it as a class of person and evaluating its behaviour towards society and the world at large as a psychologist might evaluate an ordinary person. The diagnosis: the corporation is a psychopath, externalizing all its costs onto others in the name of its sole function – maximizing profits. Needless to say the film’s considered “left wing”. However, lo and behold, in that interview Dr. Walker extolled the virtues of “selling rivers, streams and the air to private interests who would then take care of them because they owned them”.
The research took me back to Dr. Walter Bloch, who was a senior fellow of the Fraser Institute at the time. I remember interviewing him and finding that he – sit down and get a stiff drink for this one – along with another libertarian, the late Dr. Robert Nozick, a Libertarian icon, is one of the leading defenders of slave contracts, arguing that it “is a bona fide contract” which, if “abrogated, theft occurs”! The Dred Scott case lives!* I would have thought that the words “voluntary” and “slavery” were antonyms but not, apparently, to “libertarians”. Dr. Bloch believes that the logical extension of the complete liberty to do as one pleases includes signing a slavery contract.
I don’t know if Dr. Walker shared that opinion though I very much doubt it. He and Dr Bloch parted on bad terms and perhaps that was one of the reasons. I tell the story to demonstrate that the Fraser Institute is so ideologically right wing that at least one of its “Senior Fellows” has embraced slavery.
It is no secret that the Fraser Institute advises and has the ear of the Campbell government and Premier Campbell himself. There is nothing wrong, at least nothing illegal about that. What it does, however, is give us a clue as to why Premier Campbell is, in effect, turning the rivers of BC over to large corporations like General Electric and Ledcor and it also explains why he has forced BC Hydro to make deals with private power producers which will bankrupt it.
Mr. Campbell, in an explanation that would make Pinocchio blush, says “we need the power so we can be energy secure by 2016” slithering over the fact that any BC self sufficiency can hardly be achieved by making power to sell to the US market and avoids the facts that a modicum of conservation, upgrading present facilities, putting generators of dams just used for flood control and taking back the Columbia River Power we’re entitled to instead of taking money, are all we need to look after our power needs for as far down the road as we can see. (Mr. Campbell obviously needs reminding that we’re in the beginnings of a major economic downturn that will see energy needs continue to decline, a natural opportunity to embrace conservation. Has he revised his energy projections like he has his deficit budget? Quite the opposite: when BC Hydro sensibly tried to cut back its latest private power call by 40%, citing the economic downturn and falling energy demands – then energy minister Dick Neufeld publicly humiliated our power company and ordered them to buy as much private power as they could.”)
Dr Michael Walker’s opinions on private ownership of rivers are just loony tunes economic theories; in Premier Campbell’s hands they are environmental and economic catastrophes.
* The Dred Scott case in the US Supreme Court in 1857 held that slaves, even in “free states”, remained the property of the “owner” and could never have citizenship.