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Why I'm Not Liked at My Swish Club

And other consequences for daring to speak the plain truth as I see it.

By Rafe Mair 11 Jul 2011 |

Rafe Mair writes a column for The Tyee every second Monday. Read his previous columns here. He also is a founding contributor to The Common Sense Canadian.

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Mair when a radio host: there were questions he wishes he asked.

Today's effort is inspired by a recent Globe and Mail article on CBC reporter Terry Milewski, where Terry observes that in his line of work, one doesn't make a lot of friends.

I'm not in Terry's league, but I know what he means. I'm sure that if one writes a gardening column or does the horoscope, they don't make enemies. For what I do, however, if properly done, the fallout ranges from unpleasant to poisonous. If it isn't that way, you know you are not doing your job properly.

I'm fortunate to be something of a loner and always have been. When I was a child, I was quite prepared to play by myself (I said "by", not "with", damn it!) and while I had pals, I never gave enough unconditional friendship to deserve it back.

This fact of my life came to the fore on the evening of the Milewski interview when I was told that at a certain very swish club, people hated my guts. This gave me assurance I must be doing something right.

Actually, I didn't need that encouragement because back in 1992, when I was fighting the Charlottetown Accord, members of my swishy club, of which I'm now a life member, turned their backs on me. This reminded me of the story of the Duke of Wellington at the Congress of Vienna in 1815, who had some French Marshals give him the backside.

"Not to worry," he said to the group of ladies he was with, "I've seen their backs before."

An amusing aside -- a couple of years after Charlottetown, I was asked to speak on the subject to a luncheon group at my club. After I spoke, one outraged member, having evidently "seen the light", demanded "where the hell were the media during all this" and I had no trouble saying "my friend, are you ever asking the wrong guy that question!"

My sin in Clubland seems to be that I've called the B.C. Liberal government's fiscal policies into question, thus paving the way for the NDP which, it is commonly held by my critics, ruined the province, driving away business and people from our fair land. I must say that during that ruinous NDP decade, I noticed no resignations from the club on grounds of impecuniosity -- indeed, the club flourished with a great many newcomers. In point of fact, if you research the question fairly, you will see that in their decade the NDP outperformed the Liberal decade with each having severe offshore problems -- the "Asian flu" for the NDP, the recession for the Liberals.

It is said, in Clubland, that I've become a socialist, a tool of the loony left. I'll return to that in a minute.

Late to realize the real facts

In fact, I kick my own backside (not easy for a person of my proportions), because I didn't get into the fiscal idiocy of the B.C. Liberals' energy policy and other connected matters until so late. My concern was environmental, and I never really addressed the money matters as I ought to have. In fact, I used to interview David Austin, an energy lawyer very much on industry's side of the debate, and simply did not do my homework, so that for many years I was the conduit for industry propaganda. I didn't even think of money until I did an interview which got the attention of a colleague, who asked rudely and brutally if I'd ever taken the time to understand what the hell I was doing.

The answer was still "no" when, in the spring of 2008, I was asked by Tom Rankin and Damien Gillis on behalf of Save Our Rivers Society to speak at a rally against the rape of the Pitt River. I did so, but only dealt with environmental matters. Shortly thereafter, I was asked by Tom to become the official spokesperson for his organization, and, when I accepted, that began the long learning curve posed by the Campbell government's Energy Plan and its ramifications.

I read everything I could get my hands on, including Dr. John Calvert's brilliant Liquid Gold and couldn't believe what I was seeing and hearing. I didn't want to believe, partly because I was scarcely an NDP fan, having beaten them twice for a seat in the legislature. It didn't take long before I saw that every word I digested proved what a slothful broadcaster I had become, and what a pitiful excuse for a government we had.

My new duties called upon me to speak around the province, and I would tell audiences that BC Hydro could not bring on new power (except Site C); that BC Hydro had to buy the private power, whether they needed or not, and that most of the time they did not need it; that nearly all private power came with the annual run-off, when BC Hydro had no need for it; that BC Hydro was forced to buy this power and either export it at half or less what they paid for it, or use it at several times the cost of what they made itself.

I explained that BC Hydro owed (at that time) $30 billion (now about $55 billion) on these contracts, with every new forced contract upping the debt; that BC Hydro would be bankrupted by this corporate theft; I told them that these companies could bugger up (forgive the technical language) our rivers and send all their profits to distant shareholders without paying any royalty. People would say, "No government would be that stupid."

A strange atmosphere developed. As I made this speech again and again and offered to debate with the minister of energy any time, anywhere, I was refused. I taunted the government to challenge my statements. They said nothing. I spoke all through the 2009 election, drawing not a peep of protest from the government!

Democracy needs debate

Now, the evidence piled up when economist Erik Andersen -- an economist expert on government spending and sure as hell no socialist -- weighed in, supporting my case and then some. I had the rhetoric, but he had the cold, hard facts which tell us that the jewel of B.C.'s crown, BC Hydro, was in deep financial trouble. I possessed the rhetoric, but Erik backed me up with the devastating observation that BC Hydro would, if in the private sector, be in bankruptcy protection, and that the only way it can avoid actual bankruptcy is by raising our rates to cover up their folly.

One would expect the government to challenge these findings, but still not a peep!

The Liberals have been much assisted by an utter lack of incisive reporting or comment from the Postmedia papers, especially the Sun and Province, where during the NDP years they and their columnists quite properly raised hell. While my engagement with the issues was very late, at least I got there and am entitled to ask other journalists in B.C. with far larger audiences: "Where the hell have you been? And are you ever going to give up being, by your silence, as much shills for the government and industry as you would be if you actually shilled for them in your columns?"

It really adds up to this: what if they held a debate, and one side didn't show up?

It might not prove that the absentee was wrong, but it would certainly entitle one to make that assumption.

I leave you with this thought. This government is ashamed of their policy, and just like the kid with jam all his face denying he's been in the jam jar, it has no defence except to bluff its way through. I feel that the public has a right to say of them, using W.A.C. Bennett's phrase, "You couldn't run a peanut stand."

Given the government's overall record on fiscal policies and issues like BC Rail, it will be interesting to see how British Columbians behave at the polls, which may come this fall in spite of the legislation mandating fixed election dates.

In fact, if Premier Clark calls an early election as she has pledged to do, the BC Liberals will have disobeyed their own election law, demonstrating one more time, if such were necessary, the party's utter lack of a moral compass, along with its inability to run a peanut stand -- a fatal combination we can well do without.  [Tyee]

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