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Opinion

Clark Leaves ‘Honey-Do List’ from Hell for Incoming Premier Horgan

Her BC Liberals will leave Crown corp finances in disarray, and much more.

By Bill Tieleman 13 Jun 2017 | TheTyee.ca

Bill Tieleman is a former NDP strategist whose clients include unions and businesses in the resource and public sector. Tieleman is a regular Tyee contributor who writes a column on B.C. politics every Tuesday in 24 Hours newspaper. Email him at weststar@telus.net see Twitter @BillTieleman or visit his blog.

“If you could kick the person in the pants responsible for most of your trouble, you wouldn’t sit for a month.” — Theodore Roosevelt, U.S. President 1901-1909

It was a troubled relationship from the very beginning — they were just so different — and it only got worse with time.

She called him names in public, used angry and hurtful words, and now she’s leaving their house forever.

But before she leaves the premier’s office, BC Liberal leader Christy Clark has left the “honey-do list” from hell for NDP leader John Horgan.

The B.C. legislature will resume sitting on June 22, and within days or weeks Horgan will become premier and Clark will shift to opposition leader, ending 16 long years of BC Liberal rule.

And that means there are a lot of the proverbial landmines and skeletons in the closet for the new NDP government backed by the BC Greens to discover — sometimes the hard way.

However, lots of items on the honey-do list are already obvious, and troubling.

First, BC Hydro and the Insurance Corporation of BC. Two of our largest and most important Crown corporations owned by the people, and misused by the BC Liberals for their own political gain.

“These are two ticking bombs that whoever becomes government are going to have to deal with,” former senior civil servant Richard McCandless wrote last year after examining the books of both.

Then there is housing unaffordability — with Greater Vancouver setting a new record benchmark price of $967,500 — an 8.8 per cent increase over last year, despite the BC Liberals extremely late imposition of a 15 per cent foreign buyers tax.

And the housing crisis is now spreading across the province, while foreign buyers have simply relocated. In Victoria, where there is no foreign buyers tax, foreign nationals’ home purchases jumped to 23.8 per cent per cent from 16.5 per cent before the tax.

Overall, the situation is disastrous for local buyers and renters alike.

“The hole here is so deep — we’ve had 25 years of neglect of affordable housing issues, and a lot of rhetoric that has got us going in the wrong direction,” University of British Columbia geography professor David Ley told The Globe and Mail.

And then there are lengthy emergency room and surgical wait times; thousands of students in portables or schools that require seismic upgrades in case of earthquakes; a dramatic shortage of affordable child care; and the urgent need to improve child protection services after multiple tragedies under the BC Liberal administration.

But BC Hydro and ICBC are the biggest trouble twins Horgan has been left with to deal with.

Setting aside the controversial Site C dam project, BC Hydro has been dramatically raising electricity rates — up 87 per cent since the BC Liberals took power in 2001 — as it subsidized both government revenue and independent power producers’ profits.

What’s even worse is that BC Hydro is actually borrowing hundreds of millions of dollars to give to the government as a “dividend.”

One of the results of that ridiculous situation is made clear in a comparison of residential electricity rates across major Canadian cities between 2007 and 2016 by Hydro Quebec showing that Vancouver had the biggest hike — 61 per cent — compared to just eight per cent in Montreal, 14 per cent in Moncton, and 31 per cent in Winnipeg.

IPPs are owed a massive $58 billion by BC Hydro over the next 55 years, says B.C.’s independent auditor general, the province’s biggest single financial commitment and over half of the $102 billion B.C. owes in total contracts.

The IPP deals pay them exorbitantly high rates under a scheme invented by former BC Liberal premier Gordon Campbell and continued by Clark.

Economist Marvin Shaffer points out that BC Hydro buys “clean energy” IPP power for $125 to $130 per megawatt hour, but it’s estimated value on the export market is only one-quarter of that price: $30 to $35 per MWh.

And you don’t need to be an economist to figure out that buying high and selling low will drive you into deep debt — which is exactly what happened to BC Hydro — and now ratepayers are subsidizing IPP profits.

What’s more, the BC Liberals hid the need for even bigger rate increases to pay for the debt.

“From my research, this government has manipulated the financial details of our public power utility to meet its balanced budget objectives, and to set lower than necessary rates during election years... for political advantage,” McCandless wrote last year.

And then there’s ICBC, another Crown corporation turned into a cash cow for government with drivers paying high insurance rates while the BC Liberals balanced its budgets not through good management but bad business practices.

ICBC paid “dividends” to government totalling $1.2 billion between 2010 and 2016 while insurance rates jumped approximately 30 per cent between 2012 and 2016. And last year ICBC management suggested it needed a 42 per cent hike over five years to cover costs.

All in all, Christy Clark may be very glad to leave the honey-do list from hell for John Horgan to deal with, but there’s no way she and the BC Liberals can avoid responsibility for their reckless and damaging behaviour.

And they should fear, not welcome, any snap election.  [Tyee]

Read more: BC Politics

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