COLUMNS: Paying the price

What’s up with some of B.C.’s Crown Corporations?

What’s up with some of B.C.’s Crown Corporations? Are they floundering because of mismanagement? Unforeseen circumstances? Because the provincial government sees them as cash cows? All three?

Most of us don’t pay much attention to the Crowns but recent news of hefty rate increases with hydro and vehicle insurance has some of us wondering.

When WAC Bennett provincialized (is that a word?) BC Hydro, the plan was to provide electricity to British Columbians (ALL British Columbians) at a price they could afford to pay. The current Liberal government is into selling Crown Corporations (BC Rail) but I’ve never figured out what happened with BC Ferries. It seems to be a private company with B.C. taxpayers footing the bills. BC Hydro is still a Crown Corporation, but according to numerous reports it has a huge debt ($76 billion?) Some blame government interference (e.g. Site C) or cozy deals with private companies for the debt, but whatever, the corporation has to borrow millions more to pay the dividends the government is demanding over the next three years.

ICBC’s budget is tanking as its operating costs climb. Insurance rates have risen 30 per cent since 2011 and are expected to go up over 40 per cent in the next few years. Growing injury claims and vehicle repairs are blamed for the increases, the $150 million the government plans to skim off in dividends in the next three years is rarely mentioned.

No one can argue that the province needs money to pay for education, health care etc., but dividends are supposed to come from profits. BC Hydro and ICBC have no profits, so users will be paying the dividend. Some industries will get a break on electricity but the rest of us will be paying higher rates. People on fixed incomes will hurt the most. The government’s answer to ICBC rates is to stop insuring luxury vehicles.

I don’t think people mind paying taxes, what they mind is how those tax dollars are spent. Why doesn’t the government be honest about it and raise taxes rather than sneak the money from our pockets by dinging the Crown Corporations? Will this be an election issue? Does anyone care?

Diana French is a freelance columnist, former Tribune editor, retired teacher, historian, and book author.