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BC Hydro Spent $62,000 on Party for Politicians

The Crown corp. calls it good value for money, critics call it 'part of a pattern of wasted money.'

By Andrew MacLeod 15 Nov 2010 | TheTyee.ca

Andrew MacLeod is The Tyee's Legislative Bureau Chief in Victoria. Reach him here.

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BC Hydro spending 'enrages' people says NDP energy critic John Horgan

BC Hydro spent over $62,000 on a reception at the Union of British Columbia Municipalities convention in Whistler this fall.

The Crown corporation hosted the lavish evening reception on Sept. 29 in the conference centre for delegates to the meeting of mayors and councillors from across B.C. Attendees also included reporters, MLAs, BC Hydro staff and other conference guests.

The bill from Tourism Whistler, which operates the conference centre, included $10,223.25, plus HST, for alcoholic beverages. The bill included 1,135 glasses of wine ($6.25 each), 351 servings of domestic beer ($5.75 each), and 171 micro-brewed beer ($6.25 each).

A further $37,196, plus tax, was spent on food and non-alcoholic beverages. These included 210 servings of fruit juice, 59 of San Pellegrino sparkling water and 10 de-alcoholized beers.

Other charges included an $8,061.27 tip, $264 for security and $100 for "fireplace lighting & wood."

A separate bill for $1,999.20 from Mediaco: The Presentation Company, included one-day rental fees of $1,100 for an LCD projector, $175 for a screen and $250 for a laptop computer.

The Tyee obtained the records through a freedom of information request.

Chance to talk to local government: Hydro

A spokesperson for BC Hydro said hosting the reception made good business sense for the publicly-owned company.

"BC Hydro's generation, transmission and distribution activities cover the entire province, affecting virtually every person, community and local government in B.C.," said Susan Danard in an emailed statement.

"Most locally elected officials attend the Union of BC Municipalities Conference, offering BC Hydro an efficient and cost-effective way to meet as many of them as possible in one location." Roughly 1,300 conference attendees came to the reception, she said.

"Alternative options would involve additional BC Hydro staff travel time and resources that would cost more than hosting everyone at one event," she added.

Discussions at the conference covered a broad range of topics of interest to BC Hydro, she said. They included the reliability of electrical service, the development of alternative energy, local infrastructure projects, opportunities for conservation and reducing costs for local governments, and "ways to improve collaboration to attract industry to more remote communities," she said.

BC Hydro representatives also had formal meetings with mayors, councillors and regional districts at the conference, participated in a clean energy workshop and set up an educational booth at a trade show that was part of the conference. As well, there were informal meetings, she said. "Over the course of four days, we conservatively estimate that more than 2,000 points of contact were made with local government officials."

Hydro should focus on customers, stop wasting money: NDP

But New Democratic Party energy critic John Horgan said the reception was part of a pattern of wasted money at the Crown corporation.

"BC Hydro should focus on its core business, which is providing low cost electricity to ratepayers and not holding receptions for politicians," Horgan said in a phone interview.

It should be "returning benefits to all British Columbians, not just politicians congregating at places like Whistler," he said.

He added that he doubts BC Hydro's customers will be impressed to hear the company spent tens of thousands of dollars buying drinks and food for politicians. "It further enrages people who see their bills going up and up and up," he said.

Horgan pointed out the company has been spending a lot of money lately on things that appear to be outside its core business.

The Crown corporation spent more than $1.7 million on "customer appreciation" at the 2010 Olympic Winter Games in Whistler and Vancouver, including more than $600,000 worth of tickets and $84,000 on food and drinks.

And a "splashy event" last April that featured Premier Gordon Campbell and others travelling to the W.A.C. Bennett dam on the Peace River to announce a step forward in the plan to build the Site C dam cost $360,000, according to a Globe and Mail report.

"These things start to add up," said Horgan. BC Hydro claims to be working to keep rates down, he said, but "it rings pretty hollow when you see them spending money on pomp and circumstance."  [Tyee]

Read more: Energy, Politics

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