Opinion

Will Campbell Rescue Plutonic?

Utilities commission nixed Libs' river power push. Now what?

By Rafe Mair 3 Aug 2009 | TheTyee.ca

Rafe Mair writes a Monday column for The Tyee. Read previous columns by Rafe Mair here. He also acts as a spokesperson for the Save Our Rivers Society.

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Premier Campbell at 2008 green expo.

If you looked at last Wednesday's Toronto Globe and Mail -- the national edition -- and looked at the front page, left column you would have seen this headline: "Green Premier's Agenda hits snag as energy plan rejected."

The sub-headline read: "Commission says Campbell's initiative not public interest".

This was followed by a full article, later updated, by the eminent Mark Hume, outlining how the British Columbia Utilities Commission (BCUC) has roundly criticized the private rivers scheme of the Campbell government.

I'm not going to deal with the issues themselves today. Instead, I'm simply here to point out that this story is a blockbuster because shares of Plutonic, one of the major players in the private energy game, took a sizeable plunge after the decision.

The Globe and Mail knew it was a major story, so let's see what the local CanWest papers had to say on the same day, July 29.

Out on bail, into tanning beds

The Province told us about hoods on bail (this story has taken on the status of regular feature with this paper), the sale of the "fast ferries", a story about Translink and the ferries and the perils of driving while using a cell phone.

There was the start of a housing project, two full pages about the heat wave, a Canadian killed in Puerto Rico and how you should take your garbage with you. We have now reached the op-ed page and nary a word about the BCUC ruling!

As we move on, we have HST and restaurants, guilty letter carriers and Hutterites and photo ID. On and on it goes, a big story on tanning beds on A20 and we're through the News section.

The Vancouver ("seriously West Coast") Sun is the same, except that Vaughn Palmer, who usually comments upon the news and doesn't report it, uses the story for his column and obviously is choking back tears as he relates this tragic condemnation of his Liberal government.

So here we have it. The Globe and Mail, on its front page, not in the B.C. section, fully reports this blockbuster story.

But with "seriously west coast" CanWest, the same story doesn't outrank lost dogs and losing B.C. Lions quarterbacks.

Government to Plutonic's rescue?

As I said, I won't deal with the finer points, because the Save Our Rivers Society has people much more knowledgeable than I to do this (check out its board of advisors).

I will, however, give you a political opinion.

The Campbell government has based its very existence on its rivers policy which is a shameful sham. It encourages the destruction of our rivers beyond repair so that large international companies can produce power which must be purchased by BC Hydro at prices two to three times the value on the spot market. Because this power is mostly produced during the spring run off when BC Hydro has full reservoirs and lots of power, private power is all but useless for British Columbia customers and will be exported at a huge loss by BC Hydro.

The policy is madness. If you doubt me, read Dr. John Calvert's book Liquid Gold. (Calvert is on the SORS Board of Advisors). Given these facts, no intelligent observers -- as are the members of BCUC -- could fail to see that the government's rivers policy was a colossal mistake.

Now here's what happens. Because BCUC offered some positive words about the Burrard Thermal plant and Site "C", the government will hop on these to justify legislating the BCUC decision out of existence. I need hardly tell you how irresponsible this will be. Whatever other things the BCUC said, the condemnation of the private power scheme stands on its own. The government knows that BC Hydro can indeed phase out Burrard Thermal (which is only used in an emergency) and make up power needs by conservation, upgrades of current generators, new generators and, by exercising our powers under the Columbia River Treaty, repatriating power we send for to the US.

This issue is a political one and it involves a government protecting not the citizens but its corporate paymasters. Rather than do what is right, I predict, Campbell will not permit BCUC to embarrass him.

The BCUC decision is a marvelous victory for all who laboured so hard to expose and end an atrocious policy. But it won't last because -- and you can bet on this -- Campbell will legislate his power policy so that Plutonic's shares will rise again at the expense of us the voters.

That's my prediction. Anyone want to lay bets against me?  [Tyee]

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