Some of us are old enough to remember when W.A.C. Bennett ruled the roost in B.C. Common Sense columnist Rafe Mair, a cabinet minister in that Bennett government, recently reminded his readers of the Bennett vision.
The right-wing Social Credit premier believed the public would be better served if electricity and transportation services were in government hands. So, he bought BC Electric and the ferry system from the private sector and created BC Hydro, and BC Ferries. The province already owned the railway.
The Crown Corporations provided affordable services with any dividends going to the government.
Fast forward to this century. Former Premier Gordon Campbell sold/gave BC Rail to the private sector, hybridized BC Ferries so the private side gets the benefits, taxpayers the bills, and began tinkering with BC Hydro. Premier Clark is finishing that job. (Mr. Mair calls it murder.)
I don’t know about the railway, but BC Ferries now has higher fares and poorer service. There isn’t space in this column to list all the Hydro issues, but since 2004, its long-term debt has increased from $6.8 billion to $16.7 billion, annual capital expenditures up from $669 million to $2.169 billion. Interest payments are up 35 per cent. Ironically, while residential ratepayers are using less electricity, we are paying more. Demand for electricity has dropped for three consecutive years.
Along with borrowing to finance activities, Bill Bennett, minister in charge of Hydro, says the corporation borrowed the millions of dollars for dividends it must pay the government.
Among other issues, Hydro’s CEO recently apologized for “misleading” the BC Utilities Commission regarding the purchase of a multi-million dollar computer system, which has been having problems. The corporation is also bulling ahead with the controversial Site C dam ($9 billion construction, not counting environmental damage or court cases.) Many experts say BC doesn’t need the extra power.
Mr. Mair believes the only way Hydro can recover from its financial mess is with a massive injection of government funds, increased user fees, or both. Or maybe selling it at a bargain price to the private sector?
Diana French is a freelance columnist for the Tribune. She is a former Tribune editor, retired teacher, historian, and book author.