Hunter S. Thompson:
As far as I’m concerned, it’s a damned shame that a field as potentially dynamic and vital as journalism should be overrun with dullards, bums, and hacks, hag-ridden with myopia, apathy, and complacence, and generally stuck in a bog of stagnant mediocrity.
One ubiquitous messenger from the Legislative Press Gallery wrote a column that provided, shall we say, an incomplete account of the management change in BC’s largest public utility. It included:
…McDonald departs with a severance package of half a million dollars and every likelihood that she’d land a position elsewhere that will make Horgan look ridiculous.
She was chosen CEO via a headhunting process that the board itself approved. In annual reviews, board members endorsed her performance for three years running.
…firing one of the most accomplished women in the provincial public sector…
The Site C committee of the Hydro board has met regularly since construction started two years ago. The most recent meeting was in early June, at which time Hydro was still reporting the overall project to be on time (despite delays in some segments) and on budget.
…But if the New Democrats think that Hydro and its directors are hiding anything greater, they could start by making public the minutes of the oversight committee so everyone can see.
Headhunters checked list of trusted staff who’d hung around BC Premiers’ offices and said, “Anyone here with no energy experience?” #bcpoli
— Norm Farrell (@Norm_Farrell) July 22, 2017
I suggest that current members of BC Hydro’s board of directors are not the best sources for a writer reporting on McDonald’s achievements. Palmer notes directors were appointed by Liberals but doesn’t mention that most of the utility’s recent directors were financial contributors to the party and all were subject to directions of the cabinet. Political loyalties obviously shape the narrative.
We can though assess the ex-CEO’s accomplishments by examining the record.
Jessica McDonald was the person who:
- helped lead BC Hydro from financial strength to equity-starved instability,
- condoned accounting trickery to hide the utility’s disastrous financial results,
- presided over residential electricity price increases about ten times the size of those in the preceding two decades (see chart below),
- allowed private power purchases to rise by $50 million a month in a time of surplus power when both demand and export markets were soft,
- approved BC Hydro asset growth of $12 billion while the utility’s internal production of electricity declined,
- allowed BC Hydro staff to lie consistently to taxpayers about growing demand for electrical power in British Columbia,
- initiated Site C construction with no external review and no demonstrated need for this new power source,
Sarah Cox, a journalist not of the type Hunter S. Thompson described, wrote very different words than Vaughn Palmer:
BC Hydro’s latest Site C report reveals that — well before May’s provincial election and Clark’s headline-grabbing claims — the hydro project was already late meeting three out of eight “key milestones” for 2017 and was at risk of being late for three more.
…The report lists some reasons for Site C’s late and “at risk” milestones. Among them are a 400-metre long tension crack on an unstable Peace River embankment and delays — prior to March 31 — in awarding contracts.
One key milestone, a new civil contract award for the dam’s generating station and spillways, was five months behind schedule by March 31. A milestone to complete a road on the north bank, where the tension crack appeared in February, was 13 months behind by the end of March.
…Meanwhile, Site C’s main civil works contractor — a partnership that includes the Alberta corporation Petrowest, Korea’s Samsung C&T and a Canadian subsidiary of the Spanish conglomerate Acciona — has “experienced delays on several of their critical path activities, requiring a re-sequencing of planned work,” according to the BC Hydro filing.
…BC Hydro declined to answer questions about the report…
Yes, why answer questions that might be asked by diligent journalists when selected information can be released later through a trusted and uncritical media ally who won’t draw attention to the experiences of other Canadian dam builders, or the possible risks of Site C becoming a similar economic disaster.
Ms. Cox provides that information:
…The bill for the Muskrat Falls dam — called a “boondoggle” by the CEO in charge of building it — jumped by another $1 billion last month and is now pegged at $12.7 billion. The dam will produce roughly three-quarters of Site C’s energy.
The price tag for the Keeyask dam — which will produce 695 megawatts of power compared to Site C’s projected 1,100 megawatts — jumped by $2 billion this year, to $8.7 million.
Muskrat Falls’s cost is expected to add an extra $150 onto the monthly hydro bill of every household in Newfoundland and Labrador. Rate increases for Manitobans as a result of the Keeyask dam’s escalating price tag have not yet been determined, although news reports say they will be in the double digits.
Former BC Hydro CEO Marc Eliesen has called Site C a “big white elephant” that will lead to significant hydro rate increases…
Another view of McDonald was expressed at the Vancouver Sun webpage by commenter Helen Wildman:
Accomplished? Visionary ?This liberal flunky had a BA and zero experience in the energy sector – she might be visionary to her corporate masters – and if she lands another corporate job it will just be due to connections not any particular abilities( which is how she landed her previous ones ). Perhaps the Vancouver sun can make her editor- in – chief, – you don’t seem to need any particular skills to work there,as long as you are a liberal mouthpiece and supporter & able to produce liberal spin . The only credentials / skills Jessica seems to have – she ‘ll fit right in. And if she is the most accomplished woman in the public sector as Vaughn suggests then we are in serious trouble because it seems then that education and skills mean nothing and all you need are connections – ( what a slap in the face to all really accomplished women, that comment of palmers ) Good riddance and Good on Horgan for firing her !! I applaud this move.
In April, Bob Mackin, BC’s most effective political reporter, described Jessica McDonald as a BC Liberal insider who runs the utility “under chair and patronage appointee Brad Bennett. Her ex-husband, Mike McDonald, is the Liberal campaign manager and a senior associate at BC Hydro contractor Kirk & Co.
One of the BC Chamber of Commerce’s favorites, an Edge of the Ledge veteran, also mourned McDonald’s removal from the Liberal gravy train:
She is an incredibly talented, intelligent, empathetic and highly-motivated professional. She will be dearly missed in that organization
— Blair King (@BlairKing_ca) July 21, 2017
Regarding ousted BC Hydro CEO Jessica McDonald, I totally concur with this: https://t.co/2W4aWMVXMZ
— Keith Baldrey (@keithbaldrey) July 21, 2017
Integrity BC provided a recap for the financial rewards McDonald earned from public service. It’s incomplete but the total for 2015-2017 will certainly exceed $2 million.