Absent watchdogs

Most journalists, particularly ones occupying the BC Press Gallery, have spent little or no time examining Site C, the costliest public project in BC history.

In contrast, I remember daily headlines and aroused commentary when Premier Glen Clark’s government thought ferry construction would invigorate BC’s shipbuilding industry.

In financial terms, the bungled fast ferry project was 1/20 the size of Site C, destroyed no valuable farmlands and disrupted no cultural sites.

Yet, even when BC Hydro concealed details of massive Site C problems, corporate media barely paid attention. This week, Globe and Mail published scrutiny of the Peace River project, but it came from concerned citizens, not journalists.

Here are excerpts from the opinion piece by Chiesa, Swain and Harcourt, The Site C dam has become an albatross and a serious objective review is needed urgently:

Mauro Chiesa has worked on project finance around the world for many banks, including the World Bank. Harry Swain chaired the Joint Review Panel on Site C and is a former deputy minister of Industry Canada. Mike Harcourt is a former premier of B.C. and former mayor of Vancouver.

…BC Hydro has discovered nasty geotechnical conditions under the powerhouse and spillways, and says their cost and schedule estimates are so broken it will take them until the fall just to produce new ones.

…Back in 2018, a hugely experienced dam engineer named Harvey Elwin said – in a sworn court statement for the West Moberly First Nation – that he’d never seen such appalling foundation conditions nor such secrecy on the part of project proponents.

…BC Hydro blamed all this on COVID-19. But the problem has been staring the utility in the face for years. Its current (and late) reports to the BC Utilities Commission cover 2019 and the first quarter of 2020. Ignoring the novelty of blaming a piece of Pleistocene-era geology for a 21st-century problem, only the final two weeks of the 65 weeks covered by the report overlapped with the COVID-19 lockdown…

[BC Hydro] will apparently spend the summer costing out various alternatives for fixing a dam that’s being built on the geological equivalent of billiard balls…

But a fundamental problem even nastier than unco-operative geology still looms: the fact that even by 2025, there will be no demand for the power Site C produces. Its cost will likely be north of $120 per megawatt hour (MWh) – even more than the $118/MWh residential consumers paid last year, and more than the very high $87/MWh paid last year for power from Independent Power Producers. Couple that with the concessionary $54/MWh rates promised to the liquefied natural gas industry, and residential consumers are in for a terrific shock. And as the price rises, less will be consumed. This is the elasticity of demand: a snake that eats its own tail.

…In 2017, the NDP government decided, against much evidence, that the B.C. Liberals had succeeded in pushing the project past the point of no return. They now own this project, period. 

While I applaud the Globe for publishing opinions of two acknowledged financial experts and a former BC Premier, where are the corporate journalists?

The American Press Institute explained media responsibility:

…journalists are in the business of monitoring and keeping a check on people and institutions in power.

Journalists, valuing this function, often refer to this job as “watchdog” journalism. Reporters keep an eye over their communities, especially the actions of government leaders, in order to protect them.

Unfortunately, the watchdog functions of media are disappearing. TV news prefers short segments with engaging visuals. Violent demonstrations, multi-vehicle crashes, fires and weather disasters take precedence over thoughtful analysis of complex issues.

Rather than holding special interests accountable, Canada’s largest newspaper chain courts them as business partners. Informing the public is a receding goal.

Media watchdogs are not effective revenue generators. But we all pay a price. We just don’t know it until much later.

Categories: Journalism, Site C

17 replies »

  1. It’d difficult to be on topic AND civil, but I’ll give it a try, although I don’t now why.
    I’ve followed this ‘project’ since the 70’s, when it was first deemed uneconomical and unwarranted and before it was found ‘unbuildable’.
    I’ve added my feeble voice to number of educated and powerful speakers, some of whom Norm has mentioned here. And in all that time I can’t recall ONE voice making a strong and responsible case for the dam, unless you consider some Union hack talking about ‘jawbs’.
    We do not have enough British Columbians to fill the seats of responsible projects, much less frittering their talent away on this White Elephant! Never mind the ‘jawbs’.
    Am I still on Civil?
    It would be nice to think that THE LARGEST PROJECT EVER UNDERTAKEN IN THE PROVINCE OF BRITISH COLUMBIA would warrant the odd mention in the press, or the odd update once in a while? But not a word. Mind you, I don’t think many subscribe to the local press, but that’s part of the reason why.
    Okay, enough of screaming into the wilderness! I’ve been doing it to no avail for six years, but remember, when it comes tumbling down, that I was and always have been on the side of SHUT THE F’ING THING DOWN!

    Yes, I feel a little better now.


  2. And Gee, I wonder who those useless Press Gallery corporate sheep are. Never hard to figure that one. They stand out like a sore thumb among the real journalists.


    • More like the real journalist stick out like a sore thumb. Any message that is critical of power and supports with complicated data is probably the truth. No one reads it because it’s not simple.

      While working at a crown corporation, I was consistently told to write at a grade 4 level so the executives could understand. Intelligent discourse will be a liability in our era until we clear out incompetence and corruption.


      • I read all your posts here. It’s awesome your here, speaking up, especially seeing your background. Thankyou. I’m quite happy seeing the pushback against the disgraceful puppet press gallery kind and turncoat type of journalists of big corporate media. A necessary battle between good journalism and reporting and bad, will probably only get more intense as many people feel more and more betrayed by the system and too much bad press.


        • Kenny,

          It’s great that we have this forum to discuss the truth. My ultimate wish is that following some of these threads will lead us to the roots of corruption or incompetence so that we can correct the problem for good.

          Everyone on this site also helps keep me sane… it’s very testing for your mental soundness to see complete idiots promoted to positions of power and then have them punish you for communicating the facts to them. Imagine having a boss that isn’t aware of the concept of gravity instructing you on building a jet and you’ll get the idea. If any of you happened to be a fly on the wall of the meetings I’ve attended, you would know the problem is much bigger and much worse than just Site C. In fact, you would be in awe and amazement that any infrastructure functions at all in BC.

          For everything that works, you have to thank the front line workers and engineers who fought or ignored their idiot bosses from implementing ill informed schemes.

          Unfortunately, the employees with integrity that speak up are being removed one at a time… things will get much worse… just wait until you see the losses reported for the previous year at BC Hydro. The report is three months late because no one can figure out how to put a positive spin on it.


  3. Citizen journalists such as Norm have the challenges of getting enough exposure to the public — and believability… as well as $$, access to records and time. The mainstream media has advantages in all these areas, but have gone soft, to assuage their corporate and government supporters.

    We, as readers and commenters can do our part by linking to Norm’s site, in Twitter, Facebook and comments on news stories. Keep on sending donations as well, to help defray Norm’s costs.

    (“Mauro Chiesa,” I thought to myself. I hadn’t heard that name in years. He was in my grad class at Argyle Secondary in 1972 — and I believe we played soccer together in Lynn Valley.)


  4. The media watchdogs today are , Norman Ferral; Harvey Oberfeld; Ross K, Laila Yuili, Bob Mackin and a host of other “bloggist’s” who do much due diligence researching what they write.

    I would have added the Tyee, but I’m afraid no longer, as it has morphed in the Goebbelsque theatre of misinformation, to suit its clients.

    The mainstream media now practices, “repeat lies often enough so the public will begin to believe them”. Works very well, doesn’t it.

    We live in an age of great deceit.

    As Orwell observed; “In a time of deceit, telling the truth is a revolutionary act.”


    • I now live in Ontario but have supported the Tyee and Focus in Victoria since my time there. I am disappointed in your evaluation of the Tyee journalism. I would appreciate examples of misinformation.


    • I believe The Tyee is an essential source of journalism in British Columbia and one of my two favourites. The Narwhal is outstanding but more focused on environmental issues, while The Tyee looks at public issues more broadly.

      Hiring Jen St. Denis as full-time reporter on Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside is but one example. I was in that area last night and it is a wasteland of poverty that ought to appall each and every citizen. More attention paid to the social ills prevalent there is critical if the problems are to be addressed.

      The Tyee’s homepage today is shows a number of worthwhile articles.

      Evil Eye, have you looked at it? I don’t know who you think are The Tyee’s clients. It’s financially supported largely by readers, including me. I value what they do and have found them great to work with the few times I submitted content. Mine were opinion pieces and, other than routine fact checking, they placed no barriers.

      One way to make The Tyee even better? Increased contributions. When readers provide sufficient funding, real solid journalism is possible.


      • I agree that the Tyee prsents a variety of opinions worthy of discussion all across Canada if we share on media like Facebook. We will not know about them unless someone brings our attention to them. Just like CBC overnight radio programs from all over the world, if we do not know we remain in our bubbles and hold onto our points of view without being challenged to see another.


  5. You will not hear from these lapdogs right now because this fiasco is still partly owned by the Liberals. Give it a little more time and when they feel that the NDP are the new owners it will be the fast ferries all over again. Wagers anyone?


  6. Gregory (Scotland Yard detective): “Is there any other point to which you would wish to draw my attention?”
    Holmes: “To the curious incident of the dog in the night-time.”
    Gregory: “The dog did nothing in the night-time.”
    Holmes: “That was the curious incident.”

    What would Sherlock say about the whole kennel coming down with laryngitis?


  7. Part of the problem is the concentration of people and economic, political, and meritocracy/ technocracy in one isolated corner of the Province. The reporters are so focused on satisfying the advertisers for that market that they don’t believe any other area has relevance. Not an excuse for the reporters, but a reason they may feel justified in their absence from serious discussion of issues outside the lower mainland.

    On the other hand I don’t remember seeing a lot of in depth reporting of serious issues down there either. Ok, just lousy reporting then.


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