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Hey Gordo, What's Going on Here?

For Premier Campbell, unsavoury questions pile up.

By Rafe Mair 13 Apr 2009 |

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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Now silent on BC Rail deal, Campbell boasted of it in 2003.

As I write this, I'm coming to the end of a long road trip where I've been speaking to groups about the Campbell government's energy policy, which bids fair to permanently lay waste to 600 to 700 of our rivers and streams in this wonderful province of ours.

In fact, tomorrow evening I will do my seventh speech in six days, 10 in the past two weeks. During those days, I've had time to reflect on just what makes this premier such a destroyer of our unique environment.

When Gordon Campbell was leader of the opposition, I was up to my eyeballs fighting Alcan over Kemano II, or as they preferred to call it, the Kemano Completion Project. He wanted to know more about this matter so he came to my radio studio and looked at my material. He was with me for half a day whereupon he pronounced himself opposed.

Some time afterwards I asked him what had made him take that position and he related to me that he had seen a billboard showing sockeye salmon going into the Adams River to spawn and he didn't want his kids deprived of this wonder. I was impressed.

It surprised me when he became premier and almost immediately took the moratorium off Atlantic salmon fish farms.

Questions about our salmon

The issue at that time was the huge escapements of farmed salmon and the question was whether or not they might establish themselves in our rivers and streams. The premier was deaf to the entreaties of many of us who asked that he bring back the moratorium and apply the "precautionary principle" before anything further was done. Taking him at his word, I assumed that he cared for our environment.

Then, in 2003 or thereabouts, a lady named Alexandra Morton from the Broughton Archipelago, on the mainland opposite Port McNeil on Vancouver Island, came upon the scene. Though not a fish biologist, she was a scientist and had come the Broughton to study whales. At the suggestion of some nearby First Nations people, she tested young pink and some chum salmon and warned that sea lice from fish farms situated on their migration paths were slaughtering them.

The then minister responsible, John Van Dongen, wouldn't listen.

Neither did the premier who asked me to do a paper for him. Again, taking him at his word that he cared for the outdoors and our salmon, I did it. I collated all the scientific evidence available and it made an irrefutable case that Morton was right. He never acknowledged my work, let alone thanked me for it.

Questions about BC Hydro and our rivers

The more the evidence piled up, the more licenses were granted. When a legislative committee and then a commission under John Fraser, appointed by Campbell, confirmed Alexandra Morton's findings, the Campbell government issued more licences and expanded others.

Now we have the Campbell's 2002 Energy Policy, which mirrors the recommendations of Alcan. BC Hydro is no longer allowed to bring in new sources of energy. That must be done by the private sector, which is being allowed to stake rivers like old-time prospectors staked claims for gold. These private firms then will divert "their" rivers, often through tunnels up to 20 kilometres in length, thus reducing the flow in portions of the river bed by up to 95 per cent.

Questions about sweetheart deals

BC Hydro must pay huge contracts for this private power, often twice as much as they can get on the market. All this is done, we're told, to meet imminent power needs in the province. I will simply deal with the claim by observing that the National Energy Board, which vets export of energy, says B.C. is in most years an exporter of power.

Here is the insidious part. Even if B.C. did need new power, they would not be getting it from private operations for this reason: you cannot store electrical power in quantity, it must be used as it is created. You can, and BC Hydro does, "store" power by storing water in reservoirs behind dams but private projects have little or no ability to do that. Thus, private power, for the most part, can only be generated during the spring run-off when there's enough water to make their generators work.

That happens to be the very time BC Hydro's reservoirs are full so that they can't use the private power!

This means that all private power produced for the foreseeable future will be for export. We have, then, a BC Hydro unable to bring in new energy sources, strangled at this writing with $30 billion dollars in sweetheart deals with the private companies, no longer able to contribute millions of dollars to the public treasury, large companies making the power and sending their profits to their shareholders.

Questions about backroom dealings

Last year BC Hydro gave the public treasury about $500 million for schools, hospitals and the like. Now that money is going out of the province. Everywhere I go people ask the same question. Why?

The people look at the Basi-Virk "Railgate" court case and see the disappointing Attorney General Wally "Stonewally" Oppal refusing to answer questions about documents being disclosed. The premier does the same on the specious argument that the documents emerging from the trial are sub judice (before the courts).

There were the huge fees paid to Ken Dobell who was in a clear conflict of interest. We all read daily about the money that Liberal backroom boy Patrick Kinsella apparently got for consulting for the purchasers of BC Rail and the private power moguls while advising the government.

Last week Sean Holman and Mark Hume, in the Globe and Mail, laid l'affaire Kinsella bare before the public. If this isn't sleaze, what the devil is? And people, not surprisingly, ask: What the hell's going on here?"

They reflect on the fact that Gordon Campbell ran for office as a man who loved our precious fish and promised never to give up BC Hydro or BC Rail. People see money that used to come to us now goes to foreign shareholders and they ask again: What gives?

Questions about the smell in the air

How can any decent taxpayer look at all these goings on and not say in Hamlet's words "there's something rotten in the state of Denmark".

That doesn't make it so, I agree, but the air is odoriferous.

What I do say to Mr Campbell is this:

Your dealings with the sale of BC Rail.

The clear attack on BC Hydro.

The favouritism towards fish farmers and private power moguls (especially after posing as an environmentalist and defender of our Crown Corporations).

The conflicts of interest and huge fees paid to favourites.

All of this is bound to make ordinary British Columbians ask: Mr Campbell, just what the hell IS going on here?

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