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Fairness of Hydro's Clean Power Call Entrusted to Lib Donor

Lawyer had billed $2.4 million to BC Hydro, gave to the BC Liberals.

By Andrew MacLeod 20 May 2010 | TheTyee.ca

Andrew MacLeod is The Tyee's Legislative Bureau Chief in Victoria. You can reach him here.

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John Singleton of Singleton Urquhart.

The independent observer in charge of ensuring the fairness of B.C. Hydro's clean power call was a B.C. Liberal Party donor whose firm had previously done millions of dollars worth of work for the Crown energy utility.

The New Democratic Party's critic for energy mines and petroleum resources, John Horgan, raised questions during budget debate May 19 about lawyer John Singleton's relationships with both B.C. Hydro and the Liberal party.

"I appreciate that B.C. Hydro has no interest in the comings and goings of political contributions, but the public does," said Horgan. "I think that this is sufficient for the minister, at a minimum, to pause and reflect on the independence of Mr. Singleton and his firm."

The minister responsible, Blair Lekstrom, expressed complete confidence in both Singleton's independence and the integrity of the process that saw B.C. Hydro awarding contracts to firms to purchase energy -- contracts that could potentially earn those firms hundreds of millions of dollars.

Singleton did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Previous work for Hydro

The website for the Vancouver law firm Singleton Urquhart identifies Singleton as a partner in the firm who has practiced law since 1969 concentrating on "insurance, construction, professional liability and environmental matters." It also notes that he has a background in mediation and acts as a "fairness advisor/monitor of procurement activities."

Lekstrom, responding to Horgan's questions, said Singleton won the independent observer work through a request for proposals process in 2008 and was responsible for overseeing the fairness of the entire clean power call process.

But even before winning the clean power work, Singleton had a relationship with B.C. Hydro, Horgan said. Between 2001 and 2009, B.C. Hydro paid Singleton Urquhart and Singleton Urquhart Scott, as it was formerly known, $2,495,968, according to the NDP's summary of B.C. Hydro financial information referenced by Horgan. It also paid another $1,965,646 in trust to the firms.

"I'm wondering if in the process of coming to the conclusion that Mr. Singleton could be independent in this regard, staff or the minister considered what impact that $2.4 million in billings might have on his independence," Horgan asked.

Lekstrom said Singleton's professionalism is not in question. "The $2.4 million that the member quotes is probably one of the smaller legal contracts in a corporation that runs a multi-billion-dollar corporation in B.C. Hydro," he said. "We used a wide, wide number of legal firms in British Columbia... So no, there was no conflict, and I certainly have the utmost respect for the work he did."

Said Horgan, "The individual that has been referred to as independent in the selection and approval of energy purchase agreements through independent power producers had a prior arrangement with B.C. Hydro, had an expectation, perhaps, that future billings would be a result of that continued relationship. I believe that's of public interest."

Liberal donations

Singleton also had an existing relationship to the governing party, said Horgan.

On April, 24, 2009, Singleton personally donated $1,000 to the Liberal party. The firm he's a partner in gave $5,000 to the party on May 1, 2009, plus a total of $3,200 in 2007 and 2008.

Horgan drew a parallel with the special prosecutor process, which received much recent attention after Terry Robertson withdrew from an investigation involving Kash Heed's election campaign.

"There's an expectation, when you put someone aside as independent and beyond reproach," he said. "You would hope that they're not contributors to the governing party. You would hope that they didn't have a pre-existing financial relationship with the Crown corporation that's retained them."

Lekstrom insisted he remains confident in BC Hydro's process during the clean power call. "The answer to the question is a firm yes. It is independent."

Horgan and Lekstron also questioned the roles of B.C. Hydro board member Jonathan Drance and his firm Stikeman Elliot, reported by the Tyee's Will McMartin. As part of the clean power call, B.C. Hydro awarded multiple contracts to Finavera Renewables Inc., a firm with little money in the bank and no track record building windmills. The firm is chaired by Hein Poulus, who also works as a lawyer for Stikeman Elliot.  [Tyee]

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