The experience of anything approaching good government or robust democracy in the province of B.C. is now such a distant memory that the present danger is people’s low expectations. The Liberal government of Christy Clark is not so much a government as it is an anti-government: contemptuous of both the public good and of the citizens it is supposed to be governing for.
From reckless and damaging tax cuts for the wealthy and corporations (which leaves a budget shortfall of over $3 billion a year) to the $9-13 billion Site C dam catastrophe, to the financial commitment to an LNG business that the experts say is not viable, the Liberal government is aiming to govern into the future even if it loses the May 9 election. These decisions will financially cripple future governments.
If governments could be charged with criminal negligence, the Christy Clark Liberals would be in the dock.
Let me list the charges. Criminal negligence causing harm to pupils. Criminal negligence causing harm to families on social assistance and those with disabilities. Criminal negligence causing harm to B.C. Ferries. Criminal negligence causing harm to B.C. Hydro, once the pride of the province under governments of all stripes.
The “harm to pupils” should be familiar even to those outside B.C. given that it received national attention when the Supreme Court of Canada ruled the Clark government violated the Constitution when it unilaterally gutted the teachers’ contract language on class size and composition. That resulted in a whole generation of students — 15 years’ worth — being denied not only decent class sizes but librarians, specialist teachers and those serving kids with special needs. And the principal reason for this outrage? Christy Clark’s personal animosity towards the B.C. Teachers’ Federation.
In Christy Clark’s world the first will always be first and the last, last. Under the Liberal government, social assistance rates have not been raised in 10 years. That means that you get $610 a month for everything (if you are on disability you get $906). You get more if you have kids but forcing a family to exist on such rates in Vancouver is tantamount to child abuse.
Punishing the poor is hardly new in this neoliberal world but the B.C. Liberals have proven to be not just right wing but spectacularly reckless and incompetent when it comes to public utilities. There are, of course, institutions in B.C. that even the rabid privateers in Clark’s political universe didn’t dare privatize outright: ICBC (Insurance Corporation of British Columbia — the public insurance corp.), B.C. Ferries and B.C. Hydro. But even though they couldn’t sell off B.C. Ferries they “commercialized” it, turning it into a semi-private corporation with a mandate to make a profit. Even the National Post, in 2014, was left rolling its eyes at the results:
“[B.C. Ferries’] government subsidy has ballooned by more than $20 million a year, fares have risen by as much as 100 per cent, and as per one recent study, the combined effect has sapped an incredible $2.3 billion out of the coastal economy.”
But the prize for recklessness would be awarded for what the Liberals have done to B.C. Hydro — including, most recently, the decision to proceed at record pace with the Site C dam project — at $9 billion (which will likely become $13 billion) the most expensive public infrastructure project in B.C. history. Flying in the face of withering criticism from a large array of strange bedfellows and experts, Clark is furiously building “facts on the ground” so it can’t be stopped.
Among the angry and dumfounded opponents are large industrial users of electricity who in 2014 declared B.C. Hydro “out of control.” They will have seen a doubling of electricity costs even before the dam is half built. Some pulp mills have already decided to use natural gas to produce their own — cheaper — electricity.
And just this week UNESCO added its voice with a dire warning that if the Canadian government didn’t intervene, the negative downstream effects of Site C could result in the giant Wood Buffalo National Park being declared a world heritage site “in danger.”
The bizarre 70-year financing of the dam means that it will not be paid for until 2094. In other words, it will be at least two generations before B.C. citizens see any return on “their” investment.
Former B.C. Hydro CEO Marc Eliesen has also denounced the project as irresponsible: “In my view, the directors of B.C. Hydro have abdicated their fiduciary and legislative responsibility. They have allowed primarily the premier and the minister of energy to run B.C. Hydro.”
Dr. Harry Swain, who served as the chair of the Site C Joint Review Panel, broke his silence in 2016, saying the project was not needed now or in the foreseeable future: “You would only want to do that if there were an overwhelming economic case that this was the best and cheapest way, including all external effects, of providing something that the provincial economy absolutely required.”
All of this criticism has been tossed aside by the Clark government because of yet another reckless commitment it has made: to the development of a huge liquefied natural gas (LNG) industry in the province supplied by the fracking fields of northeastern B.C. — the idea being to provide clean Site C electricity to an industry with a huge carbon footprint.
One madness has led to another — because experts in the field of LNG say it will be years, possibly decades, before anything like the Liberals’ plans will play out. Perhaps three or four of the 20 proposed plants envisioned for the B.C. coast are economically viable — and then only after the huge supply coming on line in the next few years — increasing world supply by over 50 per cent — is taken up and prices rise.
Despite the “facts on the ground” both Harry Swain and Former Hydro CEO Eliesen said this week it still makes sense to cancel the project. It would cost at least a couple of billion dollars but that is still cheaper than a potential white elephant with $9 billion in stranded costs — and huge price increases to pay down the costs.
Regrettably we can’t charge this wrecking crew with criminal negligence. But at least on May 9 we can throw them out of office and stop the carnage.
Murray Dobbin has been a journalist, broadcaster, author and social activist for 40 years. He writes rabble’s State of the Nation column.
Photo: BC Gov Photos/flickr
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