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Who's Behind 'BC Citizens For Green Energy'?

Group with BC Liberal ties slams gov't critics, pushes private power, nuclear.

By Christopher Pollon, 18 Dec 2008, TheTyee.ca

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BCCGE's Bruce Sanderson and Gene Vickers.

A bold new voice emerged in the provincial discussion about B.C. energy policy last spring, right around the time public outrage was peaking against private hydro development in the Pitt River watershed.

The B.C. Citizens for Green Energy (BCCGE) -- whose name is an apparent take on the B.C. Citizens for Public Power -- launched a website in March, containing articles and press releases aggressively attacking environmentalists, the B.C. Citizens for Public Power, and the organized labour groups that support them.

From its inception, the BCCGP displayed hallmarks of an "Astroturf" group -- a fake grass-roots organization designed to both promote industry-friendly messages and marginalize critics. Over the last year, the group has taken its fight to the editorial pages of B.C. newspapers big and small, and has attempted to publicly discredit two university academics and at least one prominent B.C. journalist.

Unlike its arch nemesis, B.C. Citizens For Public Power, the group does not have non-profit society status, and the website offers scant details about where publicly solicited donations go or on whose behalf the BCCGE's aggressive lobbying and attacks are made.

BCCGP co-spokesman Gene Vickers says his group is just a bunch of passionate, right-of-centre British Columbians who strongly agree with industry and government on energy policy. He acknowledges that the opposition to the Pitt River developments was a motivating factor in the group going public, but insists that they receive no money or direction from industry or government.

"If I was being paid by Gordon Campbell to say what I'm saying, and I was saying the right thing, it would probably be OK," says the ex-BC Liberal activist and former cop turned amateur clown, motivational speaker, car salesman, and energy policy co-spokesman. "But I'm not being paid by anybody."

Who Are They?

The BC Citizens For Green Energy take direction from a steering committee, which, according to co-spokesman Bruce Sanderson, contributes intelligence and general direction to the organization.

Committee member Mark MacDonald ran unsuccessfully for the BC Liberal nomination in 2005 for Nanaimo-Parksville, and is a fixture on the Liberal Nanaimo riding constituency board. BC Liberal supporter Pamela Gardner was appointed to the BC Liberal's Women's Commission on March 6 of this year -- an organization tasked with empowering women and "encourage[ing] them to get actively involved in policy development and party initiatives." Since 2005, she has donated more than $1000 to the BC Liberal party, on behalf of both her business and herself.

Then there is Robert Ruf, a registrar at Okanagan College in Kelowna, who was appointed on Sept. 24 to Gordon Campbell's Citizens' Conservation Council on Climate Action for the Thompson Okanagan. The members of the council will advise government on the "best ways to encourage individuals, groups and communities in their regions to learn more about climate change, participate in climate action initiatives, and reduce greenhouse gas emissions."

Co-spokesman Sanderson is the president of IT company Galaxy Multimedia Corp., whose former president and controller both recently left the company to take top executive posts at independent power producer Max Power Corporation (since renamed Syntaris Power). Syntarus is currently proposing run of river projects near Chilliwack, Squamish, and Stewart. Sanderson told The Tyee that both executives left before his time, and that he has no personal connection with either of them.

Vickers was formerly active with the BC Liberals in Port Moody, where he ran twice (unsuccessfully) for Port Moody municipal council. His aspirations for political office ended in 2004 when he was caught failing to disclose election campaign expenses.

Letters to the editor

While the traffic to the website has been modest, the BCCGE's greatest success has been its ability to place letters in the editorial pages of weekly and daily newspapers across British Columbia.

Between March and November of this year, Sanderson and Vickers placed over 20 letters in B.C. newspapers, including the Vancouver Sun, the Province, and Victoria Times Colonist.

Vickers has placed letters in response to articles about electric cars, plans to power cruise ships) by plug in electrical power at ports, and the Vancouver underground electrical fire and black-out.

The persistent BCCGE message is that opposition to private power development comes from a narrow cross section of BC society: environmentalists such as the Wilderness Committee, well-financed unions ideologically opposed to private industry, and the decent, well-meaning folks who are misled by the propaganda of the former two.

"These guys have got a whack of money and they like to go out guns-a-blazin' and shoot at anything that smells of private sector," says Sanderson of labour in a scathing editorial critical of BC energy policy opposition that ran in at least three Black Press media outlets between June 2 and 24, 2008.

The group has also been quoted as energy experts by journalists writing about B.C. energy with little apparent scrutiny of their energy policy credentials: in July, Vickers appeared in a Victoria Times Colonist article about the Vancouver electrical fire and blackout, where he decries the sorry state of BC Hydro's electrical infrastructure. The same day, the same piece appeared in the Vancouver Sun under the headline "Power Outages Reveal Aging Infrastructure: Experts."

A month earlier, Vickers was featured in the Lake Windermere Valley Echo in advance of an anti-IPP rally featuring local MLA Norm Macdonald and Rafe Mair, a spokesperson for Save Our Rivers Society who also is a regular Tyee columnist. In the article, Vicker's group, which is described by the journalist as "a mostly West Coast-based volunteer organization," attacked the credentials of rally participants COPE, the Wilderness Committee and Save Our Rivers Society.

Regarding the latter, Vickers rhetorically asked who was behind the Save Our Rivers Society (SORS). "Until recently it was entirely anonymous."

But Vickers and company are equally anonymous -- they are neither a formal society or registered charity ("we're too small to even bother with registration as a non profit," Sanderson told The Tyee), and they actively solicit online donations without providing any information about where or to whom the money goes.

Attacking journalists and academics

Broadcast journalist and radio commentator Keith Baldrey was the target of BCCGE mudslinging in October when he agreed to appear at a Vancouver meeting organized by the B.C. Citizens For Public Power.

"...it's fair to ask if Baldrey will be helping them push misinformation and scare tactics," said Vickers in a widely-distributed July 14 press release entitled "Veteran Journalist's anti-IPP activity Raises Concerns."

Most recently the group has been aggressively promoting) the work of Mark Jaccard, who was hired by the Independent Power Producers' association to critique the work of two prominent SFU-academics on the subject of B.C. energy policy.

Says Vickers of SFU academic and author John Calvert's research: "This nonsense comes up everywhere from confused letters in newspapers to angry speeches delivered to partisan mobs. Now they've been thoroughly discredited -- demolished, in fact. But not before they've scared a lot of well-intentioned people."

IT, green power and nuclear reactors

Co-spokesman Sanderson has also found novel opportunities to lobby for green power. On Sept. 29, he appeared before the Select Standing Committee on Finance and Government Services -- a process intended to solicit public input on the priorities for the upcoming February 2009 provincial budget.

"I would also like to say that we have enjoyed and applauded the changes that this current government has made since coming to power and sincerely hope that it continues for many years to come," he said.

Although he was appearing on behalf of Galaxy Multimedia Corp., Sanderson soon changed tracks.

"In the upcoming budget there needs to be a much greater effort to promote independent development of alternative forms of energy such as wind, geothermal, run-of-the-river, solar, as well as exploration into the new thorium nuclear reactors..."

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