Opinion

'Liberalizing' BC Hydro

Top BC Liberal Party operatives help spin Olympics and Site C.

By Bill Tieleman 20 Jul 2010 | TheTyee.ca

Bill Tieleman is a regular Tyee contributor who writes a column on B.C. politics every Tuesday in 24 Hours newspaper. E-mail him at weststar@telus.net or visit his blog at http://billtieleman.blogspot.com.

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Susan Yurkovich: from Liberal campaign to Hydro spin.

"I can tell you that the sooner we eliminate patronage in the province, the better off all of our public institutions are going to be." -- Gordon Campbell, as opposition leader, March 26, 1997

Top BC Liberal Party political strategists and supporters have taken over key positions at BC Hydro, and the results at the province's largest Crown corporation have become clear in the last several months.

Sixteen senior managers, all making over $100,000 a year, were seconded to do low-level jobs like selling tickets for the Vancouver Olympics, as I reported exclusively last week in 24 hours. Who will pay for BC Hydro sending 67 employees at a cost of at least $2.48 million to work on the Olympics for up to five years? BC Hydro customers will, through higher electricity bills.

Why would BC Hydro give up so many staff to subsidize the Olympics? Could it be because people like Susan Yurkovich and Steve Vanagas are top BC Hydro executives who also happen to be key B.C. Liberal Party operatives?

Yurkovich was senior vice president, corporate affairs and was also responsible for BC Hydro's 2010 Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games operations until this month. She is now VP responsible for the Site C Dam project.

Key Liberal spin doctors

Yurkovich was also a member of the B.C. Liberal Party's secret central 2005 election campaign committee. And in the past year alone she has donated $1,450 to the B.C. Liberals.

Vanagas is BC Hydro's director of communications and public affairs and reported directly to Yurkovich. Vanagas came to BC Hydro straight out of Premier Gordon Campbell's office, where he was deputy chief of staff responsible for communications.

Both Yurkovich and Vanagas were parachuted into BC Hydro headquarters in 2006 after the provincial election.

Yurkovich has strong federal Conservative Party ties, having worked under the Brian Mulroney administration for B.C. cabinet minister Tom Siddon. She also sits as a provincial appointee on the University of B.C. board of governors and the Vancouver Coastal Health Authority.

Yurkovich was also a Canfor vice-president, serving under the term of Canfor president David Emerson, later a turncoat MP who switched from the federal Liberal to Conservative party in order to stay in a cabinet minister job.

Vanagas is a former staffer at the right-wing Fraser Institute and former reporter at the defunct BC Report conservative newsmagazine.

FOI requests now sent upstairs

But just in case the BC Liberals didn't have enough ability to spin BC Hydro affairs with two of their most loyal followers in charge of communications, they went even further.

A government "letter of expectation" issued in April orders BC Hydro to provide it with all freedom of information requests before releasing them -- no doubt including my FOI that revealed a $140,000-a-year manager was seconded by BC Hydro to be a "Ticket Representative" during the Olympics and that a $137,916 a year manager worked as a "supervisor, event services."

The letter of expectation has led the non-profit B.C. Freedom of Information and Privacy Association to ask that B.C.'s information and privacy commissioner investigate possible political interference in FOI requests.

Friends on the board

The BC Hydro board of directors has also been stacked with top B.C. Liberal Party supporters.

From Jamie Brown, president of Canaccord Financial subsidiary Canaccord Genuity and son of long-time BC Liberal donor Peter Brown, to Larry Blain, the premier's top privatizer of public services as CEO of Partnerships BC, to BC Liberal donor and former BC Gas CEO Stephen Bellringer, the party is well-served at the directors' table.

From top to bottom, when it comes to BC Hydro the real power flows from the BC Liberal Party.  [Tyee]

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