When the BC Liberals anoint a new leader in February 2018, will it be the beginning of an exciting new era or just more of the same tainted politics? The answer to this question will likely depend on who is trusted with the reins of party power. Will it be one of the old guard, Mike de Jong, Todd Stone or Alexander Wilkinson, who all served in the cabinet of Christy Clark? Will it be a back bench MLA, like former lawyer Michael Lee, or past Vancouver mayor Sam Sullivan? Or will they possibly choose to go with the one outsider, popular former mayor of Surrey, Dianne Watts?
It’s generally accepted that we become like the people we associate with. Parents discourage friendships with rebellious kids who get in trouble in school or are known to the authorities. This thinking applies in government as well. At the provincial level, ultimate power is lodged in the Premier’s office. In time this power tends to have a corrosive impact on earlier, more pristine intentions and values of those at the top.
While I do not consider myself competent to accuse the Liberals of corruption, I do believe there was a measure of hubris and arrogance in the Clark government. Some observers of B.C. politics have said there was more than just a whiff of erosion of values and principles. Reasons for believing this are numerous,
Possibly the most glaring one came when Christy Clark, and maybe high ranking members of her cabinet, threw the political dice one more time at the very end of their tenure. After telling voters repeatedly during the election campaign the province would be bankrupted by NDP promises, the sputtering Liberal government shamelessly concocted a budget including those same “too expensive” promises.
Another indication of corrosion was the high priced dinners. These gave business moguls and other influential personalities access to the Premier and cabinet. When I, along with possibly thousands, received an invitation to sit at her table at a cost of $5,000, I responded with a note explaining this was considerably beyond my means. I invited her for a home cooked lunch with Linda and me, at no cost to her or to taxpayers. I felt it was important to remind the Premier many of us are not affluent High Rollers, but would still appreciate an opportunity to express our views to her. This was in the midst of the election campaign and and it’s understandable she was too busy to reply.
In my view the most damning example of Liberal arrogance (and also neglect) was the refusal to allow an independent review of Site C by the BC Utilities Commission. The BCUC was set up to examine in detail such major projects before taxpayer dollars are invested. Because this project comes with an extraordinarily high price tag and is currently in the news, I feel it requires our attention.
In an October 17, 2017 submission to the BCUC, former Hydro CEO Marc Eliesen wrote, “Site C has been dogged by mismanagement, politically motivated decision-making and lack of transparency.” He also wrote, “Site C must be canceled to ensure BC ratepayers are not left with unconscionable electricity rate increases.” Eliesen is a heavy weight in the industry, having also served as CEO of Ontario Hydro and Manitoba Hydro.
In its final November 1st report, the BCUC does not take a position for or against Site C. It cautions, however, that Site C completion costs may be in excess of $10 billion, well over its proposed budget of $8.33 billion. It also notes the energy glut in North American markets could make it increasingly difficult to sell a Site C energy surplus. The panel suggests, “Increasingly viable alternative energy sources such as wind, geothermal, and industrial curtailment could provide similar benefits as the Site C project, with an equal or lower Unit Energy Cost.”
Like many British Columbians, I experienced an increasing sense of disillusionment with Liberal leadership prior to the election that dispatched them to political purgatory. Even so, I feel no desire to consign them to the ash heap of politics. Our province will be in a stronger position when both parties have competent, principled leaders. For this reason, I hope BC Liberals will make decisions that enable citizens to again trust and respect them. I hope they will select a wise leader who commits to serving the people and the province.