Jim Sinclair at the Times Colonist produced a column Saturday that demonstrates the exact opposite of the stenographic journalism discussed in the original text of this entry. Sinclair’s Province hypocritical on B.C. Hydro stance was a must-read but has been deleted by the Times Colonist.
Two recent events illustrated the cynical style of politics as practiced by Premier Christy Clark and her decade-old B.C. Liberal government.
First, the government asked reporters to assemble at a news conference in Victoria. The aim was to achieve maximum publicity for a report on the province’s largest Crown corporation, B.C. Hydro and Power Authority.
Written by three deputy ministers handpicked by Clark, the report said that Hydro was in such operational and financial disarray that one in every five Hydro workers – as many as 1,000 employees – had to lose their jobs.
As they had hoped, the news conference garnered a slew of supportive headlines, including “Fat-cat Hydro,” “Panel cites bloated staffing levels” and “Clark calls for job cuts to curb rising rates.”
The next day, B.C. Hydro quietly released its 2010/11 annual report. No big news conference, no reporters in attendance – and no publicity.
(Government spin doctors describe Friday as “takeout-the-trash” day. It is when reporters and assignment editors, like many hard-working British Columbians, begin to focus on the weekend. As a result, on Fridays, government puts out negative news it wants to go unnoticed.)
Yet, the news from B.C. Hydro was neither negative nor unwanted. In fact, it was both positive and historic.
Our publicly owned Crown corporation, one learns from reading the annual report, had just racked up its biggest-ever profit – a phenomenal, record-breaking $589 million…”
McClatchy’s DC correspondent John Walcott wrote this about the failings of journalist colleagues:
They were stenographers; they were not reporters. . . very few reporters checked out their stories, and too many just ran with what they were handed. Instead, they handed bullhorns to people who already had megaphones.
After the 2011 Review of BC Hydro was delivered by Christy Clark’s deputy minister, Sun columnist Vaughn Palmer took out his stenographer’s notebook and passed a bullhorn to the Premier’s office.
His August 18 column warned of the need for higher electricity rates OR an infusion of cash from the government that has for years been stripping every bit of “surplus” cash from the utility, including a “Payment to the Province” of $463 million in fiscal 2011 from Hydro’s retained earnings plus another $305 million in water rental fees for the year. Quoting the internal government review, Palmer wrote:
The B.C. Liberals have quietly allowed a massive increase in deferred costs at BC Hydro, creating a multibillion-dollar shortfall that will have to be repaid out of future rate increases or an injection of cash from provincial taxpayers.
When I began to read Palmer this weekend, I assumed the Sun’s provincial affairs columnist of 27 years had finally targeted the almost $50 billion in deferred payments BC Hydro incurred in contracting with independent power producers (IPP’s). But no, Palmer had set his sights on other matters:
The review panel report, released last week, documents the “significant growth” in cost deferrals at Hydro, from less than half a billion dollars in 2007 to $2 billion today and a projected $4.7 billion in 2014.
Serious eh? In seven years, deferred costs are projected to grow by $4.2 billion. Palmer acknowledges a valid basis for deferring costs that benefit future periods but here is a more detailed explanation. This is from a tax department interpretation of deferred charges:
…costs incurred from which benefit is expected to be derived after the current fiscal period. GAAP accounting for these expenses would, in most cases, require that the expenses be matched to the year in which the benefit is to be derived (the “matching principle”).
In his analysis, Vaughn Palmer treats the statements of the government’s panel as if they came from an authoritative and unconstrained review team. That is a false starting point because three deputy ministers in the Liberal Government are anything but independent examiners of this agency. The review is instead part of a campaign designed to shift blame for the bad political decisions imposed by BC Liberals. It follows the Government’s decision to force out then CEO Bob Elton for perceived disloyalty to Liberal policies. This weekend, we have Minister Rich Coleman contradicting policy admissions by new CEO Dave Cobb.
Further proof that Palmer is simply amplifying the present Liberal Government’s effort to portray BC Hydro as suspect and out of step is that the columnist somehow missed discussion of a deferral ten times larger than the one he worries about. Of course, that is the vast sum owed to IPP’s for future deliveries of high cost electricity, a business decision taken by Gordon Campbell, not BC Hydro.
Here is a screen capture from the 2010 financial statements of BC Hydro. It shows a minimum obligation of $17.137 billion owing to IPP’s as of March 31, 2010.
This is from the 2011 financial statement, with the minimum obligation to purchase energy risen to $42.976 billion, an increase of almost $26 billion in 12 months.
What was that increase that concerned you Mr. Palmer? $4.2 billion over seven years? What do you think about another obligation rising by $26 billion in 12 months?