I have called it the Campbell/Clark government because that’s what it is. Premier Clark was in on the beginning of most policies including the disastrous energy plan that sees private power companies (IPPs) destroying our rivers to produce power for BC Hydro which it doesn’t need and must take anyway, bringing Hydro to the brink of bankruptcy. (In the private sector BC Hydro would be bankrupt, except as a Crown monopoly it can always pass its grief over to us the ratepayers.)
You could have blown me over with a feather when I read in the Weekend Sun excerpts of an internal conference call in which Dave Cobb, president of Hydro, condemns the government’s IPP policy. A recording of the call – which occurred August 12, on the heels of the recent panel report on the utility’s financial situation – was leaked to the paper. Cobb pulled no punches, detailing his concerns with the government’s exaggerated “self-sufficiency” and “insurance” requirements:
“‘If it doesn’t change, it would be hundreds of millions of dollars per year that we would be spending of our ratepayers’ money with no value in return,’ said Cobb. ‘The way the self-sufficiency policy is defined now…would require us to buy far more long-term power than we need…I think they’re going to make a major change there, which will significantly reduce the amount of power we will be buying from independent power producers and anybody else,’ he said. ‘Government has to make a change.'”
I found myself asking why this headline story, so clear about the IPP financial millstone around Hydro’s neck, was not reported after the panel report and why, last week the once intrepid columnist, Vaughn Palmer, dealt with this panel report, noting Hydro’s financial grief at considerable length without even mentioning IPPs.
In the Weekend Sun report, much coverage and a picture of Paul Kariya dealt with the responses of his Clean Energy Association of BC and their appallingly shallow concerns. Whatever these industry apologists may say their concerns are, you can be sure that the interests of British Columbia are not amongst them. The Clean Energy Association is the private industry in drag, and refuses to tell us where they get their funding. NB the name – with the clear influence of George Orwell’s 1984 the association calls itself precisely what it is not.
It’s hard to believe that Minister Coleman had any advance warning of this conversation – it was, after all, a leaked conversation and at any rate, deliberately leaking a policy change of this unbelievable proportion is not Coleman’s style.
What’s the government going to do now? It can hardly fire Mr. Cobb and deny the truth of what he said for no one would believe that for a moment. Clearly, Mr. Cobb didn’t make this all up but was concerned that his staff would be caught by surprise and wanted to give them a heads up. If Mr. Coleman doesn’t fire Mr. Cobb, he might just as well have made the statements himself.
That this is the government’s unannounced (yet) policy makes political sense, insofar as one can make sense out of the appalling Campbell/Clark energy policy because the policy will kill them in the next election and they know it. It also explains why (I have this on the best authority) the industry big wigs were lower than a snake’s belly when they got the panel report last week and why it was when I met Mr. Kariya coming out of the CBC last Monday morning, he was so defensive and uneasy.
One thing’s for sure – the cat’s out of the bag, and to mix metaphors, the contents of Pandora’s box can never be put back.
The question for the Premier is obvious and simple: What now, madam?
The issue is in the public domain and will be a big time political issue.
Here’s where Premier can separate herself from the disgraced Gordon Campbell and put her own brand on her government while stealing a march on the NDP.
It will take guts to do what is right and Ms. Clark must bite the bullet and announce the end of IPPs and clearly state that it’s for two reasons: the environment and the Energy Plan itself.
She does this in several ways:
- She revives the Ministry of Environment, giving true power back to it – naming someone tougher than Barry Penner, who was indeed the longest serving Environment Minister and, sad to say, the worst. The issuance of permits to desecrate the environment must be returned to the Environment Ministry to be dealt with by a minister who has the courage to care about the environment before considering those who want the permit.
- She must announce that henceforth the Precautionary Principle, when dealing with those who need permits to encroach upon the environment, will be paramount. This principle states that if an action or policy has a suspected risk of causing harm to the public or to the environment, in the absence of scientific consensus that the action or policy is harmful, the burden of proof that it is not harmful falls on those taking the action. No longer must the onus be on the public or environmental organizations or their spokespeople.
- She must squarely face the fact that Hydro is in deep trouble and can only be saved by abandoning private power.
This is hardly the full picture because of the Ministry of Transportation running roughshod with highways over wildlife preserves and agricultural lands, and the proposed pipelines and tanker traffic.
The premier’s eminent grise, Patrick Kinsella, will be appalled but Ms. Clark, who has active political antennae, knows that Families and Children will not be the big election issue but that BC Hydro and the environment will be.
Ms. Clark, in order to extract the government from the devastating policy of Campbell must understand and face the hell, fire, brimstone from her corporate backers and lose election funds if she does what I suggest.
The decision will mark clearly whether the premier is just another pretty face or a leader the people of BC and generations to come will mention her name in gratitude… or if she remains a Campbell clone and one can fairly call her administration the CampbellClark government.