Who benefits from privatization?
By Diana French - Williams Lake Tribune - October 23, 2007

Public or private. That is the question. The issue won’t go away.

There was, and actually still is, considerable debate on the pros and cons on who serves consumers/taxpayers/residents best, the people themselves, through government agencies, or the private sector. Many, and that would include the people in power in the provincial government, believe private is best. Others, including moi, believe government should keep its nose out of most enterprises, but that essential services should be under public ownership and control. There could be some debate over just what services are essential, but most agree education and health care come under that heading.

Those who favour private delivery systems often deride those who prefer public delivery of services, often accusing them of being union members or socialists, as if being either were a bad thing. Maybe we should remember it was Social Credit Premier W.A.C. Bennett (who reigned for years by keeping the Socialist Hordes from the door ) who “publicized” BC Ferries and BC Hydro. I don’t recall that he privatized much, if anything.

My problem with privatization is that I haven’t figured out, and no one has successfully explained to me, how a private company can provide the same services at the same cost as the public sector and still make a reasonable profit.

Where does the profit come from? It’s all very well to say the private sector does things more efficiently, but then why doesn’t a business- oriented government make sure its services are provided on a businesslike basis?

Many people are wondering if the province really is a better place since the government sold BC Rail. I’ve never understood exactly what happened with BC Ferries, but many can’t see any improvement there either.

I don’t remember British Columbians demanding the sale of BC Rail. Rather the opposite. If people petitioned to turn BC Ferries over to whomever, I missed it. The privatization of local residential care certainly didn’t come at the request of the community. The question is, who benefits?

The next in line for privatization is BC Hydro. I didn’t know the public was clamouring for that either.

For about half a century BC consumers have enjoyed the lowest rates for electricity in North America because we own the system, thanks to the vision of W.A.C. That ownership has given BC businesses a competitive edge in the marketplace and given us all a sense of security. It’s about to change.

In the October issue of BC Business, John Calvert, an associate professor at SFU and a member of the 2005 BC Hydro Provincial Integrated Electricity Planning Committee, wrote a piece titled “Brace for a hydro shock.” He says “The B.C. government is transforming the province’s electricity system from one owned and controlled by the public through BC Hydro into one shaped by private energy developers and US -based multinational corporations.”

How? The government has “arbitrarily banned” the Crown corporation from investing in electricity generating facilities. The private sector will do that.

But while the government is promoting “green” private power it isn’t telling businesses they will likely be paying more for their power. It isn’t telling the rest of us either.

If I understand this correctly, the private energy companies will get rich, we’ll get poorer, and BC Hydro will get nothing in assets. Mr. Calvert says that “despite the magnitude” of the changes, there has been little public debate.

Yes. For instance there hasn’t been much public discussion of the Klinaklini/Knight/Loughborough hydro mega-project although it will be BC’s biggest run-of-the-river hydro project, costing $750 million to build. It is expected to produce 700 megawatts during peak flows.

The plans call for ten miles of a huge “power tunnel” running through the steep slopes above the Klinaklini river, crossing 27 feeder creeks along the way. The transmission lines will follow the steep shores of Knight and Loughborough Inlets, then island hop to Vancouver Island. (When I first heard this I was reminded of the plans in the early 1860s for a road from Bute Inlet across the Chilcotin to the gold fields. The Tsilhqot’in people put a dramatic stop to that. Incidentally, the Plutonic Power company has recently signed a $500 million construction agreement to build a 196 megawatt run-of-the-river hydroelectric project at the head of Bute Inlet.)

According to the information I have, the public had little time to review the Klinaklini project, especially given the potential conflicts. A lot of people didn’t even know about it.

There was an information meeting in Campbell River and the following information comes from a report in the October 3 issue of the Campbell River Mirror.

Alexander Eunell, president of the Vancouver-based Kleana Power Corporation calls the Klinakilni undertaking “Project Blessed.” Although there are some hurdles yet to overcome, he hopes to have construction begin next year. In response to concerns over the welfare of salmon and the “eyesore” the transmission lines will be for tourists to the remote wilderness area, Mr. Eunell is quoted as saying the province and Vancouver Island need the power.

This leaves me wondering just what is “green” about this project?