How the BC Liberals killed WAC Bennett’s dream of affordable public power, ferries, rail

Longtime Bc Premier WAC Bennett's dream is dead
Longtime BC Premier WAC Bennett’s dream is dead, says former Socred Minister Rafe Mair

Well, it’s all over but the shouting. WAC Bennett’s dream of cheap power, cheap rail, and cheap ferry sevice has been murdered. Yes it’s murder – pre-meditated murder – not manslaughter.

To compound this catastrophe, the mainstream print media, especially Postmedia (the Vancouver Sun, Province and National Post) acted throughout as if nothing was happening.

NDP opposition asleep at the wheel

It’s actually worse than that because the opposition has been asleep from the beginning and, even when it had its eyes barely open, was still in a semi-comatose condition. This started at the end of the 90s when the NDP folded its tent and became a mere shadow of its former self, leaving the field wide open for the right wing.

New breed of “right wing”

Now, I’m not talking about the right wing as we used to know it in the old days under the Bennetts, who mixed capitalism, socialism, and sprinkled them with doses of populism to keep things exciting.

The new guy, calling himself a Liberal, Gordon Campbell, was an entirely different breed of cat. He combined a hearty dislike for crown corporations with an utter lack of any sensitivity toward people and communities.

Bennett had dreams

WAC Bennett had three dreams: 

  1. British Columbians would be able to live on the coast and to move from place to place by sea at a reasonable cost, just as other British Columbians could by highway.
  2. He believed the same for rail and that the only way to open up this massive province was to provide cheap and reliable rail.
  3. He knew that affordable and available power was critical both to residents and to attract competitive industry.

He left us as his legacy: BC Ferries, BC Rail, and BC Hydro.

Under the Campbell/Clark government all of this has gone.

Ferries, Rail, Hydro gone or ruined

Much of the Peace Valley's best farmland is already under the Williston Reservoir, behind the WAC Bennett Dam (Damien Gillis)
WAC Bennett Dam (Damien Gillis)

The ferry system is now some hybrid, neither private not public, and down to the point of selling off its ferries to ex-employees for pennies.

BC Rail’s so called “sale” was a fraud, plain and simple, and British Columbians got taken to the cleaners.

Now we had BC Hydro, the jewel of our crown, and the Campbell/Clark government has dug its deadly talons into its back.

I am going to say it but once: “I told you so!” So did economist Erik Andersen in these pages. So did Damien Gillis. So did many others who wrote for us. The problem was that the theft and distraction was so obvious that nobody could believe that it was happening.

This is probably the best con game of all. The sucker can often work their way through a complicated scam, but give him a simple Ponzi scheme right before his very eyes and he is bowled over unto stupefaction.

The private power scam

It was scarcely a secret that Gordon Campbell hated crown corporations. Within two years of taking office he passed an energy policy which took away from BC Hydro its ability to create new power, except Site C, and forced it to buy all its new power from private companies who were given exclusive rights to make it. This required scores of our rivers to be decimated by what the private companies – euphemistically dubbed IPPs (“Independent” Power Producers”) – called “weirs” but were in fact small but destructive dams.

Construction of a private power project on the Ashlu River (Photo: Range Life)
Construction of a private power project on the Ashlu River (Photo: Range Life)

Hydro had to pay twice or more the market cost of this power and it was forced to take it when it was produced even though it didn’t need it at that time. The Finance Minister, Campbell crony Colin Hansen, said these IPPs would be little “mom and pop”, which was 100% bullshit – unless one considers General Electric to be a “mom and pop” operation. The owner of your corner grocery store can tell you what happens if you follow these sorts of business practices.

As if that wasn’t bad enough, we now have the admission from minister Bill Bennett (who at least ought to have the decency to change his name) that the Christy Clark government has been milking huge “dividends” out of money BC Hydro has borrowed. Not earned, for God’s sake, but borrowed! BC Hydro is now in a financial mess from which it can never recover, short of a massive injection of public cash out of the treasury or by inflated electricity bills or both.

Thus, under Gordo and Christy, the power company that provided reliable and cheap power to the public and to industry has gone poof! And it has gone by way deliberate misfeasance by a political party which next year will be asking us, with a straight face, to support them because they are “business oriented”.

Site C: the latest chapter in Hydro fraud

This story is, of course, compounded by Site C, which promises to deliver power we don’t need now or in the foreseeable future at a cost that will surely exceed $10 billion and will destroy thousands of acres of good agricultural land – to say nothing of the way of life of farmers and First Nations who have lived in the area since time immemorial.

During this time, the NDP have scarcely been helpful and, in fact, in their latter days in power, also helped themselves to BC Hydro-borrowed money.

I don’t suppose there’s any point in stating the obvious that the mainstream media have paid no attention whatsoever to this disgraceful destruction of our heritage. I invite you to search the Vancouver Sun and Province for critical articles, editorials, or columns about the Campbell/Clark energy wipeout that’s been the last nail in the BC Hydro coffin. You’ll come up pretty well empty.

After all, don’t forget that Postmedia are now formal partners with the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers and that big-time tax evader and jungle burner, Sukanto Tanoto and his Woodfibre LNG.

It’s hard unto impossible for a hardworking, honest, decent  citizen to find an ounce of honesty or decency amongst those, in the delicious words of the Anglican Book Of Prayer, “set in authority over us”.


About Rafe Mair

Rafe Mair, LL.B, LL.D (Hon) a B.C. MLA 1975 to 1981, was Minister of Environment from late 1978 through 1979. In 1981 he left politics for Talk Radio becoming recognized as one of B.C.'s pre-eminent journalists. An avid fly fisherman, he took a special interest in Atlantic salmon farms and private power projects as environmental calamities and became a powerful voice in opposition to them. Rafe is the co-founder of The Common Sense Canadian and writes a regular blog at

30 thoughts on “How the BC Liberals killed WAC Bennett’s dream of affordable public power, ferries, rail

  1. except for the weather, everything in BC is Screwed….and I wonder about the Weather, don’t ned Sie C, don’t need LNG, sure don’t need BC Lib(conservatives)erals, or the left over SocReds who are now Orange….give us the Keep BC Green, (bring money) from the old daze.

    1. Wrong, Don. It’s been on the books since his son, Bill, was in power. And, unlike the Liberals today, he allowed it to go to the BCUC for independent review, where it was rejected on the basis of cost and need – which he complied with.

  2. “The new guy, calling himself a Liberal, Gordon Campbell, was an entirely different breed of cat. He combined a hearty dislike for crown corporations with an utter lack of any sensitivity toward people and communities.”

    This accurately describes the obedient, identical soul-less managerialism of any number of today’s neoliberal (economics) and neocon (foreign policy) administrations…

  3. So it all comes down to honesty and open accounts. I know of no Canadian government that can offer these two valuable items. Missing in abundance in poor countries all over. Publish rather than hide. Share rather than horde.

  4. I totally agree with you Rafe. Only W.A.C. Bennett, Bill Galardi , and that team of Socreds had “Vision”. Which is so lacking in all other politicians, other than Young Bill Bennett’s team.

    1. My mail shows a remarkable nostalgia for the Socreds. As i’ve said, If you want to know how good Bill Bennett was, just look ar what we’ve had since.

      The last time I spoke to Bill, just before he got sick, he told me that the party was still legally alive and that he had advised it be kept alive “just in case”.

      The problem is a leader and, again looking at what we’ve had since Bill, they are not easy to find

      The trick is to give off confidence no matter what the circumstances. Bill did that and none of the proposed third party leaders could do that. Note that being nice has very little to do that. I can tell you that Bill was tough but everyone of us in his cabinet would have crawled a mile over broken glass for him. There are a few of us alive – ask Grace McCarthy or Pat Mcgeer, Russ Fraser … God, as I think of it there are damned few of us left.

  5. The main stream “media” pretty much let any right wingnut to have unfettered access to their editorial pages, which is helping chum the waters for dirty energy creation in BC like Biomass and garbage incineration.

    The “rigged system” we’re forced to live with, thanks to these BC Libs and their cronies, is a textbook look into how to “rig the process”, to then simply lie to the public.

    Burning massive amounts of wood, to generate energy, burning garbage, to create power, to then peddle this B.S. as “renewable/clean/green energy” is an embarrassment to all British Colombians.

    The once BC clean energy grid, is now on track to be infected with dirty energy, thanks to this provincial government, with the only benefactors are powerful corporate interests.

    Our best natural resource now, is the methane coming out of the legislature in Victoria BC. Thank goodness there are a few media outlets that didn’t sell out.

  6. You forgot about BC’s highway network. Bennett commissioned the construction of major routes into the Peace River, Caribou, North Vancouver Island, Rogers Pass, Fraser Canyon reconstruction and tunneling, all designed to expand commerce in the province. It was to go hand in hand with the ferry system and provincial railroad. Raw goods being accessed in remote regions and transported to market. Of course it also served as a transportation system for citizens. These roads have been privatized by contracting out maintenance, design and construction of bridges and roads with little public oversight and plenty of tolls and profits for friends of the BC Liberals. Just ask one of their major political contributors, the ever faithful BC Roadbuilders. Taxpayers and road users got the shaft from the BC Liberals. Shadow tolls, design on the fly, increased costs and reduced service.

  7. I think instead of sitting here bitching like children who have no say get up off our ass’s and do something about it ……make the New Socred Party ..I’m in…. revolt the only way we can without gun’s… because if we don’t we won’t be able to afford to pay the tax’s on our house’s and our children can pay rent to some one from some where else.

  8. The B.C. Liberals aren’t liberals, they’re neo-liberals. Their agenda is to smash and grab everything, deny and destroy information, win the race to the bottom re: livable incomes for the masses, and lead the peons into the ignorant bliss of a new dark age run by feudal overlords.

    The Canadian Conservatives aren’t conservatives, nor are they neo-con’s. They’re neo-lib’s too.

    These rabid fundamentalists can’t even call themselves by an honest name.

    Read Robert Altemeyers *The Authoritarians*, U of Man emeritus prof’ whose 35 years of research nails who these people are. He posts his book online for free:

  9. A note to Damien: In your video attached to this article, you detail the intentional spilling of water apparently due to over abundance. In I think it was the Vancouver Sun the other day, it was claimed that drought conditions in the U.S. caused the Americans to exercise their right under the Treaty to draw down Canadian reservoirs this past summer.

    My thanks to Rafe and yourself for keeping this outrage live. Not to diminish any of the options and reasons brought forward likely driving the building of Site C, I am suspicious that it is at its root, a “revenue stream” to at the very least pay off the $billions in Hydro’s deferred accounts, or further, to offset the ‘give-away’ to the IPP’s. At the point that the public has to pay ‘Ontario’ rates for all this political interference in Hydro, they may take the issue to the polls with them. ….In which event I doubt Premier Smiley Face’s construction worker garb will bridge the gap.

    1. At its high cost, I don’t know if Site C would be a revenue stream.

      I believe the power from IPPs, being intermittent, and coming in at certain times, needs to be backed up by large reservoirs.

      So this is situation is probably to some extent behind the plan for Site C.

      So, with Site C, it looks like BC Hydro would be spending $9 billion in order to lose even more money buying power from IPPs.

      One question I have, is Site C a P3, or is funding all to be from BC Hydro?

  10. So, remember the Energy File? The BC Energy Coalition? Bob Bonner and his fines? The statements that BC had access to the DC Intertie from The Dalles to California on which the
    Northern Dams were dependent for getting 15-year firm sales to the California Utilities? And
    then being shown in testimony to have lied to the Court and turfed out. There has been some rats in the rigging for decades, but these rats take the cake. I could go on but look up the articles from Energy File — the Uranium Inquiry, etc. The problem is centralized stupidity — from a grid that doesn’t make sense all the way to investments made without oversight. There are solutions in decentralized examples everywhere you care to look, but they require thought and research — and actual political and economic support. (Listening, Trudeau?)

    1. BC Hydro is managing it’s projects just like the sale of power to California you know the one where they still owe us $740 million but we let them off…..stupid. That same way.

  11. The crucial problem is the lack of a viable alternative to the BC Liberals. The NDP under Horgan are as limpwristed a bunch of milquetoasts as is possible. Either put David Eby in charge for a makeover, or start a new alternative such as a Green Party of BC. Someone has to do this or Clark will win yet again next spring! Elizabeth May?

    1. the NDP are just the opposite side of the same bad penny as the Liberals, they serve special interests only and have the same disdain for the people of BC as the Liberals……BRING BACK THE SOCIAL CREDIT party they were BC people working for BC’s people, not a bunch greedy MBA jack asses ripping us off like the Liberals or Incompetent economy destroyers like the NDP.

  12. Credit big time for “I Told You So” to John Calvert whose book LIQUID GOLD got it going and Marv Rosenau who’s kept it going.

    If you want to really get the story, get John’s book which opened my eys, big time!

  13. I have been watching this saga develop..for many years .. Point is SO could every other BC Citizen.. But most were too dumb or disinterested to even vote these rats out.. or speak up or whatever. The media in this country are as guilty as anyone for the demise of Canadian Democracy. Another point is : This is a happening throughout North America . Conservatives are NOT conservatives Liberals are NOT liberals . Yet the public continues to put these people in government. 45000 Canadian young men gave their lives for our freedoms and Democracy.
    These political rats, the Media and an apathetic public have squandered those freedoms and Democracy. We have let down those 45000 Canadians. WW11 Veteran

    1. so the alternative is to put the morally bankrupt NDP back in power, I agree with everything in the video and comments but there needs to be a return to the Sored party as the NDP are not a real solution either!

  14. This whole fiasco started with Bill Vander Zalm ‘selling’ off Highways Maintenance. Had not tweaked to the connection of Gordo’s hate of crown corporations but yes, BC Rail was a huge fraud, the ferries equally so & hydro so worse! The rest boils down to these so called liberals (using the name only) caring only about the cost (as they define it) and not the value or worth of it.

    1. Vander Zalm’s selling of Highway maintenance reduced cost as the Public Service Unions had become so costly and inefficient due to NDP mismanagement or intended management that it was necessary, but this is nothing compared to the BC Rail sale and the Ferries fiasco under the Liberals. WE NEED THE SOCIAL CREDIT PARTY BACK! the NDP and the LIBERALS are opposite sides of the same bad penny they both serve special interest and not the people of BC

      1. What utter rubbish. The privatization of highways maintenance was just the first of many selloffs by Campbell and his band of cronies. If you think that the cost of maintenance went down you are delusional at best. The union stayed in place, the workers stayed in place but a very large profit margin was added. In the years since, maintenance has deteriorated drastically under privatization. Anyone that can remember the before and after can tell you how bad it has become.

        1. Right on, Robert! I’m surprised that Dan is not aware of the Legacy of Debt left by the BC Liberals. The Socreds with all their faults were still better than the current mix of reformers and conservatives. Most of the best of Socred policy was sacrificed in the interests or uniting the right. Unfortunately they all had to move too far into the fringe to hold it together.

        2. ” Anyone that can remember the before and after can tell you how bad it has become.”
          I agree 200% We used to joke about the highways department workers (Department of Holidays) but damn they did fine work, they were good enough to make it look easy Privatization has not helped in the slightest.

  15. If more power was needed in BC, there is BC Hydro’s gas-powered Burrard Thermal plant. Oh, but the BC Clean Energy Act doesn’t let BC Hydro use it, except in certain circumstances.

    Although LNG, if exported to Asia, would be used in the same type of power plant.

    Try making sense of that.

  16. Hi Markerbuoy,

    Thanks for your kind note.

    With the lfe I’ve lived, something had to rub off! I have been fortunate to know and work with some very fine people and for a premier who had faith in me. Now I have a brilliant colleague, Damien who is the future.

    I’ve been very lucky!

  17. I remember when Rafe was elected and served in the provincial government. While I didn’t always agree with the government of which he was a part, or with him as an MLA I am impressed with his acquired wisdom at this stage of life. I couldn’t agree more with the above article and many more that Rafe has penned.
    On BC Hydro in particular; what is happening in BC is also happening in many other jurisdictions around the world. Private interests have co-opted/corrupted public governance for their own benefit. Usury, in that the public subsidises the interests of minority individuals and private corporations seems to be the political order of the day.
    Neo Liberal, Neo Con, Biberberg, call it what you will; all are at work, aided & abetted by the (conventional) media.
    Hang in there folks…times will change; the ghost of WAC Bennett will rise again (For all his ills, he had the best interests of the province at heart) . One more toll bridge, one more yoga bridge day, one more hydrogen highway, one more BC rail, one more triple delete email, hopefully will a (civilised & informed) revolution start.
    I live in hope…actually Victoria. BC joke :-).

  18. I think your comments on our BC electricity scene is dead on except for one minor point, I don’t know what the cost of producing wind power is. But the thing that keeps getting pointed out is how much more than market power this new source is. Like Rafes comment that Hydro had to buy it at twice market value.

    The thing is that market value has nothing to do with production cost because at any given moment utilities are selling excess capacity at less than their own cost of production. And that is what establishes the “market” price. On top of that when BC Hydro is marketing their power they live with government interference in their pricing, often making it impossible to pay for their existing system maintenance, on projects that are fifty and more years old. As for setting money aside or taking into account the need for projects that they are allowed to build like Site C, forget about it,and remember they are projecting a cost for site C that is higher than the total spent on the entire system up to now. So that was about 8 billion spent on 45,000 gigawatts compared to 10 Billion being spent on 5500 gigawatts.

    As far as I know their hasn’t even been a comprehensive comparison of Site C and those Independent Power Producers. Rafe and Damien and many others, prominent energy, economy, environment experts have called for just that kind of analysis before the BC Utilities Commission. But as Rafe is pointing out with this article, this ‘liberal’ government does not want an accounting.

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