Wednesday, November 1, 2006

BC's PROVINCIAL PARKS UNDER ATTACK AGAIN BY GORDON CAMPBELL (Update)

Here is an update from WCWC. The UBCM overwhelmingly oppose development in BC parks.

Last Friday, in a surprising and nearly universal show of opposition, mayors and councillors from across British Columbia voted against the BC government's controversial initiative to allow resorts and hotels in provincial parks. The vote, on the last day of the Union of BC Municipalities (UBCM) Annual General Meeting held in Victoria, saw over 95 percent of municipalities and regional authorities reject plans for the proposal.

Before the vote, Whistler, Victoria, Kelowna, Comox, the District of North Vancouver, Nelson and the Central Coast Regional District took the floor and spoke against the BC government's Roofed Accommodation Strategy. The speakers cited concerns about negative impacts on existing tourism businesses, erosion of wilderness values within parks, and lack of public consultation.

It's clear the majority of citizens and communities are opposed to the initiative to privatize and develop our world class parks system. Lodges and resorts should be appropriately situated in gateway communities where they will benefit local residents and stimulate local economies.

Our provincial government's attention should be on protecting our parks, not on trying to introduce hotels and resorts into them. BC needs an adequately funded park system, with safe trails, rangers back in our parks, a return of interpretive staff and programs, and parking meters removed. Tell your MLA how strongly you feel about BC's protected area system. You can find you local MLA at: http://www.legis.gov.bc.ca/mla/3-1-1.htm

Or contact

Premier Gordon Campbell
Room 156
Parliament Buildings
Victoria, BC
V8V 1X4

Phone: 604 660-3202
premier@gov.bc.ca

Send us a copy at parklovers@wildernesscommittee.org.

Gwen Barlee
Policy Director

More information on parks: http://www.wildernesscommittee.org/campaigns/policy/parks

Monday, October 23, 2006

BC's PROVINCIAL PARKS UNDER ATTACK AGAIN BY GORDON CAMPBELL (Update)

Just a brief update; here is another great place to get more info and add your support to the defense of our public parks.

The Friends of the Campaign for BC Parks

At this point I haven’t heard much on this issue however I’m concerned Berry Penner and the BC Liberals may try and push some deals through during the busy fast approaching holiday season.

I’ll keep you posted on any further developments.

Sunday, July 30, 2006

BC's PROVINCIAL PARKS UNDER ATTACK AGAIN BY GORDON CAMPBELL

If you are concerned about this Issue I urge to read down to the bottom of this post, lots of great info here. I’m sorry if this post is fairly lengthy and condensed all together.

Well they’re at it again. Gordon Campbell and his so called Environment Minister Barry Penner are planning major changes to our beautiful parks system.

This CRAP has got to be stopped! What gives these thieves the right to hand over chunks of our public parks to their private sector buddies for profits? These are parks. Places set aside for their unique qualities for generations to enjoy. They DO NOT have a mandate to do this. I will personally be doing everything I can to help stop this crime against the people of British Columbia. I urge you all to do the same before it’s too late!

Were do I sign up to get a picket sign?

See also, "More private hotels planned for B.C. parks" and the WCWC Web Site

Private-lodge plan comes under fire
PROVINCIAL PARKS: Activist worries resorts would be too exclusive and hurt wildlife

John Bermingham
The Province

Sunday, July 30, 2006

A wildlife activist in the East Kootenay has vowed to fight any attempt to build eco-tourism resorts in B.C.'s provincial parks.

Ellen Zimmerman says she's worried that Elk Falls and Mount Assiniboine parks in the Kootenay could become wilderness resorts for the well-heeled if the B.C. government brings in private operators.

On Friday, B.C. Environment Minister Barry Penner defended Liberal plans to allow private-sector hotels and lodges at a dozen provincial parks.

The call for proposals include 100-bed hotels, lodges and circular yurts in B.C. parks, privately built and operated over a 30-year term.

"There's going to be less public land available to the public," says Zimmerman, who belongs to the Western Canada environmental group Wildsight.

Wildlife like wolverines, grizzly bears and mountain goats may also suffer from increased contact with humans, she says.

"You'll see a large upswelling of public opposition to this, not just among conservation groups, but among recreation groups and wildlife groups throughout the Kootenay region," she predicts.

The resorts could be built instead in Fernie, Golden and Invermere, she suggests.

Gwen Barlee of the Western Canada Wilderness Committee worries that resort operators could exert their private-property rights and eventually expand within the parks.

"You're bringing in roads, floatplanes, helicopter traffic, staff housing," says Barlee.

"What are we getting ourselves into? This is really kicking the door open. These are public parks and the public has not been consulted. It's been [done] completely behind closed doors."

Barlee is also concerned the move will open the way for dozens of other parks to bring in private investors.

Of B.C.'s 600 provincial parks, about 160 have accommodation, mostly overnight cabins for hikers and campers. There have been lodges at Elk Lake, Assiniboine and Manning parks for many years.

NDP environment critic Shane Simpson says that, while industry may have been consulted, the public has been left out of the loop.

"That concerns me," says Simpson. "This is a major initiative around the privatization and commercialization of our provincial parks.

"They're not going to stop at 12. If this proceeds, how many are going be on the list next year and the year after?"

Environment Minister Barry Penner said the proposals will be going to the public and possibly First Nations.

"There will be public consultation required before any proposal goes forward," Penner said.

The added revenues will be used to service the existing park system, which has doubled in size since 1990.

"Through all that expansion of space . . . there have been virtually no new facilities added," Penner said.

The resorts are aimed in part at attracting greying eco-tourists and tourists from the U.S., Europe and Asia.

Penner said private operators would pay the government an annual fee and the government would remain the landowner and landlord.

Tom Bird, who heads the Sport Fishing Institute of B.C., called it a "potential opportunity" for operators and compared the plans to those implemented in U.S. public parks.

"Virtually every major park down there has some kind of commercial operation in it, which isn't necessarily a bad thing," said Bird.

jbermingham@png.canwest.com

DESIGNATED DOZEN

Provincial parks in which the government is proposing the construction of private-sector lodges and other accommodations:

- Cape Scott/North Coast trail (Vancouver Island);

- Elk Lakes (Kootenay);

- Fintry (Okanagan);

- Foch-Gilttoyees (Skeena);

- Golden Ears (Lower Mainland);

- Maxhamish Lake (Peace);

- Mount Assiniboine (Kootenay);

- Mount Robson (Omineca);

- Myra-Bellevue /Myra Canyon (Okanagan);

- Nancy Greene (Kootenay);

- Silver Star /Sovereign Lake (Okanagan); and

- Wells Gray /Stevens Lake (Thompson).

-- Source: Ministry of Environment

Ran with fact box "DESIGNATED DOZEN", which has been appended to the story.


Here is David Schrecks Interpritation Of This Bad Deal.

August 14, 2006

Park Commercialization: An Initial Term of up to 30 Years.

On August 10th the Ministry of the Environment posted six of its requests for proposals (RFPs) for "fixed-roof accommodation" to the BC Bid® website. Six more will follow on August 31st. Four in the first batch of requests state that the "initial term" will be "up to 30 years" suggesting that there could be subsequent terms. The exceptions are the Elk Lakes where the RFP calls for a 10 year term, and Mt Assiniboine which involves a 20 year term. The Elk Lakes proposal also differs in that it is essentially the privatization of the operation of the entire park. The Elk Lakes RFP states:

"The duties of the Permittee will include but not be limited to the following:

*
Operating a year round reservation system for the Cabin;
*
Park user fee collection;
*
Ongoing and regular maintenance and improvement of the Facilities (notwithstanding this duty, BC Parks will remain responsible for the funding of major repair projects, greater than $1,000, that have the prior written approval of BC Parks);
*
Upgrading the water, toilets, and grey water systems;
*
Providing potable water to the Cabin and Campground users;
*
Maintaining and submitting to BC Parks financial reports and attendance statistics; and,
*
May include the provision of appropriate recreational services."

The RFP states that: "The general expectation is for the successful Proponent to establish and manage a successful business enterprise … with a fair return to the Province for this opportunity. "

Like the Elk Lakes RFP, the Mt Assiniboine RFP essentially calls for the privatization of the park's operation: "The business opportunity encompasses the restoration, operation, maintenance, and operation of the Lodge as well as the associated financing, and the operation, maintenance and management of all visitor services and accommodation facilities in the Core Area of Mount Assiniboine Provincial Park."

The other four RFPs range from building a series of huts in Cape Scott Provincial Park to building a 100 bed land based resort, restaurant and gift shop together with a 20-30 boat overnight (7 - 14 day stay) docking facility at Fintry Provincial Park.

The Cape Scott RFP recognized the inherit conflict between park values and operating a successful business within a park when it said: "The Ministry is interested in descriptions of likely operating cycles that address matters such as balancing the protection of natural values of the Cape Scott Provincial Park with the need for facilities or recreational features or services needed in order to make the business successful in meeting the goals of this Project."

The four 30 year RFPs all require proponents to state their marketing plans: "Each Proponent should describe who is going to be their primary, secondary and tertiary market, potential size and $ value of each target market, promotional means and the use of media."

The way some reporters and columnists have promoted the government's park commercialization scheme, it looks like "the use of the media" is well underway. Whether we are talking about 100 bed resorts that, according to the RFP, might cater to weddings and executive retreats, or wilderness huts, the "fixed-roof accommodation" policy is about privatizing portions of BC's parks while earning a return for the Province. The Campbell government is acting as a developer out to use our parks to make a profit while competing with tourism operators in adjacent communities. Why should a situation be created where the protection of natural values has to be "balanced" against commercial interests who hold park use permits?


Here's what Paul Willcocks had to say about this isanity.
Monday, August 21, 2006
Park development a bad idea

VICTORIA - There are some passable arguments for promoting development in provincial parks, but ultimately it remains a bad idea. The government is opening the door to development in a dozen parks this month, encouraging everything from cabins for hikers to lodges with up to 100 beds. The first calls for proposals have already gone out, and they include wilderness parks like Cape Scott at the northern tip of Vancouver Island.
Environment Minister Barry Penner says it’s all about access. Just because people can’t sleep in a tent doesn’t mean they shouldn’t get to stay in a wilderness park, he says. British Columbians are getting older and more rickety and want somewhere comfy to stay, and Penner says the environment ministry has to meet the need. And he promises that the government is being careful to make sure that any development won’t wreck the parks.
The problem is that once you begin constructing lodges and cabins and the various facilities needed to support them, you no longer have a wilderness park. Paving the West Coast Trail and creating little lodges along the way would make it more accessible. It would also destroy it.
Penner doesn’t mention the money, but that’s also behind this drive for commercial development. The government is counting on companies to pay for the right to build and operate businesses inside parks. The successful developers will get 30-year leases.
You can make a weak case for development in some parks, I suppose, particularly ones already on major highways or partially developed.
But the best policy would be to recognize the importance of preservation and the responsibility to keep parks whole.
That doesn’t mean that parks have to be exclusively for the fit and able-bodied.
If greater access is the goal – and if there is consumer demand - then development could be encouraged just outside parks, in communities that would be glad of the economic activity and additional tax base. Instead of plunking a lodge down inside a park, services could be provided just outside the park boundaries and steps taken to improve access for visitors.
And if developers want a shot at operating a true wilderness lodge, there are thousands of square kilometres of Crown and private land available outside parks. Negotiate a lease and build away.
That’s what some operators have already done. And those projects have shown that development inevitably brings significant change. It’s not just the construction of a lodge or cabins. The operator needs to transport supplies into the park; staff have to be housed; visitors will almost certainly demand more services or better roads. The government claims it consulted with the public on the plan to expand commercial development in parks, but it’s hard to find supporters.
The opposition, however, is remarkably broad-based. More than a dozen conservation and environmental groups oppose the plan. The B.C. Wildlife Association, which represents fishermen and hunters, thinks it’s a bad idea. So do wilderness tourism operators.
And they all fear that these proposals are just the start and that development will be encouraged in more provincial parks across the province.
These aren’t the extremists, the people who would be happiest if no one – or at most a handful of people - ever ventured into parks. They recognize that parks, while vital in protecting wilderness, are also for people.
But they believe that access can be offered without unnecessary commercial development inside park boundaries. Penner says the public will get a say on whether the specific proposals go ahead. But the government’s official policy on park development, released last month, is alarmingly vague on how the public will have a meaningful chance to offer its views. There are no provisions for public hearings or formal consultation.
B.C. has a magnificent park system, which we hold in trust for future generations.
We shouldn’t permanently damage that heritage, especially when there are alternative ways of improving access.
Footnote: The 12 parks covered in the first new development wave are Mount Robson in the Omineca Region, Elk Lakes, Mount Assiniboine and Nancy Greene in the Kootenays, Wells Gray (in the Cariboo, Foch-Giltoyees in the Skeena region, Cape Scott on northern Vancouver Island, Maxhamish Lake in the Peace, Golden Ears in the Lower Mainland and Fintry, Silver Star and Myra Bellevue in the Okanagan.

Here's an update From David Schreck.....

September 4, 2006

Executive Retreats Part of Park Commercialization

"For those who prefer a tent, BC Parks does provide more than 11,000 campsites. However, not everyone who wants to enjoy a parks experience is able to sleep on the ground in a tent. That's why the provincial government requested proposals last month to build and operate fixed-roof accommodations in a handful of selected parks."
Barry Penner, Minister of the Environment, in opinion column published in the Vancouver Sun, September 4, 2006.

If the reason for commercializing our parks is for folks like me who are no longer up to sleeping in a pup tent, why does the request for proposals (RFP) for Fintry Provincial Park call for a 100 bed land based resort, restaurant and gift shop together with a 20-30 boat overnight and the ability to cater to weddings and executive retreats? Are we to believe that the Okanagan is so short of resorts and tourist facilities that it is necessary to commercialize our parks to meet the demand?

The most likely explanation for the Campbell government's policy was indicated by Penner in his Vancouver Sun column when he wrote: "Operators will have to pay annual fees to government for these permits. All of this revenue will stay within the BC Parks system to help fund services and programs." Notwithstanding Penner's assurances, it is very difficult to obtain any information on the budget and expenditures for B.C. Parks. Speaking in the Legislature during estimates debate on April 5, 2006, Penner said: "In fiscal 2006-2007 the total budget for the environmental stewardship division of the Ministry of Environment is $69.987 million. That budget covers fish and wildlife branch, parks branch, protected areas and ecosystems - something we were just talking about a moment ago in terms of species at risk. The budget in terms of B.C. Parks itself would be approximately $30 million." According to the 2002-2003 Service Plan for the Ministry of Water, Land and Air Protection, before the Campbell cuts in February 2002, the 2001-2002 budget for environmental stewardship was $83.545 million (plus $2 million for the Grizzly Bear program). It looks like the funding envelope which includes parks is still 16% lower than it was in 2001. Apart from ideology, the commercialization of B.C.'s Parks appears to be an attempt to compensate for some of the Campbell cuts.

In early August commercialization schemes were set out for Cape Scott, Mount Robson, Elk Lakes, Wells Gray ,Mount Assiniboine and Fintry provincial parks. Additional RFPs for commercialization were issued at the end of August for:

*
Silver Star (Near Vernon and Silver Star Mountain Resort.)
*
Myra Bellevue (The protected area is southeast of Kelowna.)
*
Nancy Greene (A 20-min drive from Castlegar or Rossland.)
*
Maxhamish Lake (There is no road access and the closest community is Fort Nelson, 125 km to the south. Joe Sixpack isn't going to be the one flying into a new resort in that park and protected area.)
*
Foch-Giltoyees (Near Kitimat.)
*
Golden Ears (Easily accessible as it is just 11 km north of Maple Ridge.)

The Silver Star RFP provides for an "initial term of up to 30 years" for a "a high quality ski-in ski-out facility" which would be "capable of accommodating approximately 30-45 guests in 5-15 rooms, and should also include common areas and associated food and beverage services". That concept is a long way from Penner's justification of an alternative for folks who don't want to stay in tents. That is straightforward commercialization of our parks that has nothing to do with the changing demographics that the government claims is the reason for expanding "fixed-roof accommodations".

Like the RFP for Fintry, executive retreats and weddings are part of the suggested uses for the commercialization of both Golden Ears in the Lower Mainland and of Myra Bellevue, again competing with existing facilities in the Okanagan. That's low end on the spending scale compared to the RFP for Maxhamish which states: "It is expected that the proposed lodge at Maxhamish Lake would cater primarily to fly-in guests wanting to fish on one of British Columbia's most productive lakes for trophy walleye and pike." That sounds like converting a wilderness area to a playground for well-healed U.S. tourists, not like an alternative for those who can't handle tents. The RFP for Foch-Giltoyees also put the lie to Penner's column when it said that: "The anticipated market to be served by the new park facilities is that of adventure tourists."

Penner's Vancouver Sun column concluded by discussing the process which led to the RFPs, including meeting five times in 2004 and 2005 with a "sounding board" from various organizations. It would be interesting to hear the reaction to the government's actual RFPs from those who participated on the sounding board. Before alienating rights in our parks for generations to come, the Campbell government needs to slow down and listen to all British Columbians. The Campbell government drove a million visitors a year out of B.C.'s Parks through its ill advised parking fees; it should slow down before it makes an even bigger mistake.

From WCWC.....
BC Government to Meet Today with Park Developers
by WCWC Media • Wednesday September 06, 2006 at 09:09 AM

Meetings with potential developers scheduled without public consultation and before environmental concerns addressed

September 6, 2006 (Vancouver, B.C.) - The British Columbia government has fast-tracked its controversial "roofed accommodation" strategy in provincial parks by scheduling meetings with prospective park developers just 18 business days after requests for proposals (RFPs) were first posted on a government website. Proponents meetings are scheduled to begin today in Cape Scott Provincial Park, one of 12 parks proposed for development.

Six RFPs were issued August 10, 2006 on BC Bid, the government website to access BC public sector business opportunities. Another six proposals were posted on August 31, 2006.

The decision to meet with developers so soon after RFPs were issued has surprised many. Of equal concern is the absence of expected public consultation and the failure to address pointed environmental concerns raised by ministry of environment staff in the RFPs.

"The fact that the government is steam-rolling this shows complete contempt for public consultation," remarked an alarmed Gwen Barlee, policy director with the Wilderness Committee. "What seems to be forgotten is that these are public parks being proffered up for development."

Ministry staff flagged numerous concerns in the RFPs including the harassment, disturbance and displacement of endangered species and "potentially lethal contact" between bears and humans at Cape Scott Provincial Park.

Other parks face additional problems including the potential "destruction of habitat and extirpation of species," developments being inconsistent with park management plans, interface logging (logging of areas adjacent to resorts to control fire hazards), anticipated conflict with the public, and reduced public access to park beaches.

The Wells Gray proposal is surprisingly frank in certain sections, referring to "high-end facilities" geared to "European tourists." Other RFPs refer to heli-hiking, exclusive fishing opportunities and ski touring available to hotel guests.

The RFPs are also notable for the costs attached to some of the proposed lodgings. "Conservative development costs" for the 80-bed development slated for Golden Ears Park range from $5-6 million including road expansion, landscaping and interface logging costs. In the Okanagan the capitol cost of a "resort" in Fintry Park, which would include a 100-bed hotel, restaurant, marina and gift shop, is pegged at $2-5 million.

"Additional private for-profit lodges of any sort are unacceptable in our parks, but when we saw these proposals we were astounded. The BC government is proceeding with the development of our public parks as if they were McDonalds franchises," said Barlee. "They have created a how-to guide for developers. Promised public consultation has become a sham not about whether resorts be allowed in parks in the first place, but about how wide roads will be and the colour of resort awnings."

For more information contact:
Gwen Barlee, Western Canada Wilderness Committee: (604) 683-8220; cell (604) 202-0322

Visit http://www.bcbid.gov.bc.ca to review the 12 requests for proposals to develop in BC parks


Here is a good letter to the editor from a local paper....

No to park development

Editor, The Record:

I am furious and outraged that Mr. (Barry) Penner (Environment minister) and Premier Gordon Campbell are considering proposals to allow various new developments within our provincial parks.

Over the last 100 years, our parks were set aside for their special ecological qualities and environmentally sustainable recreation op-portunities for countless generations to cherish and enjoy.

The B.C. Liberals do not have a mandate to allow any type of development within our provincial parks' boundaries, period.

Our parks were created for the simple reason of providing protection to ecologically unique and sensitive areas in our province. It has been understood that these areas were to remain undeveloped to preserve their fundamental ecological integrity for present and future generations to come.

The B.C. Liberals must also recognize that these areas were not established as economic profit-generating zones for industry and commerce but rather a place where people could reconnect with nature in some of the most beautiful and pristine protected areas in the world.

We have a major asset with our parks system that other countries would die for. The Penner, Campbell and the B.C. Liberal party are not properly promoting or protecting it.

In fact, ever since the B.C. Liberals rolled into power back in 2001, it's been non-stop contempt for our parks system.

The threat of privatization, park interpretation programs axed, new parking meters, higher camping fees, closing down of some forestry recreation sites, logging within park boundaries, damaging budget cutbacks, staff reductions and the pushing back of South Chilcotin's parks boundaries to allowing mining has shown just how reckless they are with the stewardship of our precious parks system.

I can't believe that, in North America, B.C. stands alone with Mississippi in having no parks interpretation program.

We have just one park ranger for every 12 parks. The federal government spends more than five times more on its parks system than B.C. does, relative to size. This is totally unacceptable.

My wife and I also have real fears that, if private ventures are allowed to start up in 12 of our public parks, this would be the thin edge of the wedge of further expansion.

There then would be nothing to stop multinational corporations from taking control of blocks of parks and their total operations, seeing them then do whatever they wish with our parks once in control.

I've noticed that Manning Park is one example Mr. Penner refers to on a regular basis as an example of a resort within a park. Well, the minister consistently fails to mention that this resort is right next to a major provincial highway that bisects Manning. So obviously the infrastructure is there to service this resort. Also, the resort caters to the ski hill that operates within the park during the winter months. Many fixed-roof structures that exist in park boundaries today were grandfathered in before many of our parks were established. Other huts or shelters are run by many non-profit societies that are ecologically sustainable without having to put in polluting infrastructure to make a profit.

Mr. Penner's argument that parks should be more accessible to an aging population that doesn't want to "sleep on the ground in a tent" is out of touch with what's really happening in our parks today. My wife and I are avid users of our provincial parks system and found that many of these people he refers to stay in luxury sleeping accommodations in their huge motorhomes and RVs.

They also stay outside park boundaries in bed-and-breakfasts and hotels after a day of visiting a park.

While on some of our numerous overnight hikes in our parks, we have also witnessed many older folk, people in their 50s to 60s, actually camping overnight in backcountry campsites.

Don't forget that our parks more than pay for themselves. For every dollar the B.C. government invests in parks, $10 comes back to the province in revenue generated by visitor expenditures. I would argue that those monies should be reinvested back into our parks system by boosting the annual budget to our parks from $28 million annually to $60 million annually. In 2001 the B.C. Liberals were left with a billion-dollar surplus but went about ideologically cutting and privatizing many government programs and services, including the provincial parks budget.

The B.C. Liberals have been touting a record budget surplus of $3.5 billion that should, in my opinion, be put back to those many government programs and services that were hacked back in the past 4.5 years, including our beloved parks system.

L. Hamilton
New Westminster

Monday, July 24, 2006

Gordon Campbell, Financial Genius?

Gordon Campbell, Financial Genius?
Lib rollercoaster ride ends up where it started.
View full article and comments here
By Will McMartin
Published: July 19, 2006
TheTyee.ca

What a long, strange trip it's been! British Columbia's 2005-06 public accounts, released on Monday, July 17, show that the province's "accumulated deficit" has fallen to just $124 million.

(The accumulated deficit is defined in the public accounts as "the sum of the current and all prior years' operating results." Another definition, by the auditor general, is "the total of all past annual surpluses and deficits to date.")

That figure is nearly identical to the $224 million accumulated deficit Gordon Campbell and his B.C. Liberals inherited when they were first elected to government in 2001.

Back then, emboldened by an electoral victory of overwhelming proportions, the Campbell Liberals embarked on one of the most bizarre fiscal adventures ever seen by British Columbians. Within mere weeks of winning a 77-2 seat advantage over the opposition New Democratic Party, Campbell and then-finance minister Gary Collins immediately and simultaneously implemented a lethal combination of massive tax cuts and huge spending increases.

To the surprise of no one, save Campbell and Collins, gargantuan shortfalls quickly appeared on the fiscal horizon. In response, the premier-finance minister duo promptly made a 180-degree spin-around in fiscal policy, introducing new tax hikes combined with dramatic spending cuts.

But the latter alterations could not prevent record-breaking budgetary deficits and an explosion in the province's accumulated deficit. From a bare $224 million when they first took office, Campbell's Liberals pushed the accumulated-deficit to a mind-numbing $5.8 billion -- in just three years!

This will surprise most readers, because the skyrocketing accumulated deficit failed to excite any interest by either the business community or news media.

Back to square one

Fortunately, historically low interest rates, skyrocketing commodity prices and an increasingly generous federal government enabled B.C. to record sizeable fiscal surpluses over the past two years. In 2004-05, the province's accumulated deficit fell to $3.2 billion, and then in 2005-06, as stated above, plummeted to its current $124 million. In other words, after five years of the weirdest fiscal experiment ever seen in B.C.'s 134-year history, the province's finances have simply returned to where they were when the Campbell Liberals first formed the government in 2001.

Fortunately for long-suffering British Columbians, Gary Collins is no longer finance minister (he retired from politics in 2004) and Gordon Campbell has turned his attention to issues other than fiscal policy (such as native affairs, health funding and transportation).

With luck, and so long as adults remain in charge of the provincial finances, B.C. may soon be able to record something not seen in this province in many years: an accumulated surplus.

Depending on Ottawa's handouts

The public accounts illustrate that Ottawa provides an ever-increasing proportion of B.C.'s budgetary revenues. It was a subject that concerned former auditor general Wayne Strelioff, who addressed what he described as the province's "growing dependence on federal transfer payments" in last year's edition of his annual Monitoring the Government's Finances report.

Strelioff pointed out (on page 46 of the report) that between 1997 and 2002, federal transfers remained at less than 10 per cent of all other provincial revenues. The nadir was in fiscal 1997-98, when Ottawa's transfers (less than $2.2 billion) represented a miniscule 7.4 per cent of all other revenues generated by Glen Clark's NDP government.

But beginning in 2003, Ottawa's contributions "increased substantially," and by fiscal 2004-05 represented 13.8 per cent of all other provincial revenues. Those figures, Strelioff wrote, "reveal the provincial government is becoming increasingly vulnerable to the fiscal decisions of another level of government...."

One wonders what the former auditor general would say about the most recent period, as Ottawa's transfers to Victoria leaped to nearly $5.8 billion, or a whopping 19.2 per cent of all other revenues in 2005-06. That's more than double the level through the late 1990s.

The most-recent public accounts use a different calculation to illustrate B.C.'s growing reliance on the federal government. The documents reveal (on page 18) that while federal transfers in 2003-04 were just 12 per cent of Victoria's total revenue, in the last fiscal year that figure was 16 per cent.

This, the public accounts stated, "shows a higher dependence on the federal government to fund provincial programs...."

Simply, British Columbia is increasingly susceptible to fiscal policies set more than 3,000 miles away.

Gordo the big spender

British Columbians should never forget that Gordon Campbell loves government. For all the premier's right-wing rhetoric (mostly while in opposition) and the exhortations of his political supporters, it is important to remember that as mayor of Vancouver and chair of the Greater Vancouver Regional District, Campbell oversaw record-busting spending increases in both jurisdictions. Moreover, much of his skyrocketing civic expenditures were directed not towards increased services for people, but a growing municipal bureaucracy.

And so it is at the provincial level. The public accounts show that over the last three years, between 2003-04 and 2005-06, Campbell pushed Victoria's expenditures on "general government" from $491 million to $676 million.

That's an eye-popping increase of 37.7 per cent over just three years. By comparison, over the same period, health spending -- which many observers claim is "out of control" -- grew by just 14 per cent; social services by 16.3 per cent; and education by just 9.9 per cent.

As premier, Campbell has introduced sizeable salary and benefit increases for senior bureaucrats; expanded his own office staff to include nearly a dozen deputy and assistant deputy ministers at any one time; retained numerous highly paid consultants for "special projects" reporting personally to him; and overseen a dramatic growth in taxpayer-funded, politically partisan government advertising.

All together now: Gordon Campbell loves government!

Opposition swings and misses

NDP MLA Rob Fleming (Victoria-Hillside) has been a member of the legislature for a little over a year, so perhaps he should be forgiven for a strange critique of the latest public accounts.

Fleming, who chairs the legislature's public accounts committee, apparently leafed through the 200-plus pages of the report and decided to zero-in on -- wait for it -- an alleged whopping increase in the government's "fees and licences" revenue. According to the public accounts (page 15), between 2004-05 and 2005-06, this source of revenue soared from $3.621 billion to $3.649 billion. Why, that's an outrageous rise of, er, less than 8/10ths of one per cent.

Fleming also bemoaned the fact that income tax revenues came in at $5.838 billion, which was $349 million higher than had been anticipated. The rookie New Democrat suggested that this represented a tax grab by the B.C. Liberals.

He is unaware, perhaps, that in the New Democratic Party's last full fiscal year in power, 2000-01, Ujjal Dosanjh's government collected an even-higher amount, $5.963 billion, in income taxes. Bare weeks after Dosanjh was defeated, the newly-elected Campbell Liberals instituted a 25 per cent across-the-board cut to personal income tax rates and revenues plummeted.

Better luck next year, Rob.

Carole Taylor's hooey

Finally, the public accounts show that B.C. ended the 2005-06 fiscal year with $3.9 billion in "cash, cash equivalents and temporary investments."

Readers may recall that Finance Minister Carole Taylor, when she dangled $1 billion in "signing bonuses" to public sector workers who concluded new collective agreements before the end of the fiscal period, said that any unspent portion of the $1 billion would "immediately" go toward repayment of the provincial debt.

Here's what she told the legislature last February 23, in response to a question from NDP MLA Adrian Dix:

"In terms of flexibility, and I assume you're talking about whether or not this billion dollars will be there after March 31.... I assume that's the question. There is no flexibility on that, and I'm really glad actually to have this opportunity to speak broadly to all of those people that I know are sitting at home watching this breathlessly. (Emphasis added.)

"It is a chance to speak directly to people once again about this billion dollars. This was unexpected revenue that came into the books this year. British Columbia is very proud of the fact that we are now GAAP-compliant. That's something that this government has done. We believe in accountability and transparency. We are the only province in Canada that has reached this level of accountability and transparency.

"Therefore, we must follow the GAAP rules. GAAP, of course, means generally accepted accounting principles. There are rules that are governed by the Public Sector Accounting and Auditing Board. It is national; this is not a British Columbia board. It is national, and they set the accounting rules.

"The rules are these. Any money that comes in, in one year must be dedicated and assigned during that year; and therefore this money, which we have put on the table for our union sectors…. If they can reach a negotiated settlement before our year-end, which is March 31 and does match 90 per cent of our contracts, then those signing bonuses will go to the individual employees.

"However, if they have not reached agreement and if perhaps some have and some haven't, whatever is left of that $1 billion will immediately go to paying down the debt of British Columbia. So that money is not lost to the people of British Columbia. It just goes to a different area. It's no longer a signing bonus because the contracts won't have been signed, and therefore it will go to paying down the debt for British Columbians."

Taylor's reply to Dix may charitably be described as "hooey." As an earlier Tyee article explained, there is no statutory, GAAP or other requirement that surplus monies automatically go toward debt repayment at the end of a fiscal period.

The public accounts show that British Columbia ended the 2005-06 fiscal period, on March 31, with cash totalling nearly $4 billion. Those monies did not go to paying down the provincial debt -- although as financial assets they reduced B.C.'s net liabilities by an equivalent amount -- but were in the provincial treasury the next morning, April 1, at the beginning of the 2006-07 fiscal year, where they were available for Taylor and her government colleagues to use as they saw fit.

Veteran political advisor and analyst Will McMartin is a regular contributor to The Tyee.

Related Tyee stories: Will McMartin charged Premier Campbell with misleading British Columbians on the ledgers left by the NDP and revealed how Finance Minister Taylor fudged the surplus in the last budget.
Back to Gordon Campbell, Financial Genius?

Saturday, March 18, 2006

Gordon Campbell’s Stealthy Privatization of Our Hydro Power System and The Water Rights That Power It

Here is a very timely article by Murray Dobbin below, on what Gordon Campbell is currently giving away to his corporate buddies. The deep integration with the United States marches on.

Flogging our water

By murray dobbin

Publish Date: 16-Mar-2006
Energy analyst John Calvert worries that B.C. Liberal government policies could open the door for private power exports to the U.S. Phillip Chin photo.

Energy analyst John Calvert worries that B.C. Liberal government policies could open the door for private power exports to the U.S. Phillip Chin photo.
Genuine Health

There is a nasty political battle going in the Squamish-Lillooet region. It pits local citizens, kayakers, environmentalists, and the Squamish-Lillooet Regional District (SLRD) against some extremely powerful forces. The dispute revolves around a plan to build a “run-of-the-river” hydroelectric facility on the Ashlu River, just north of Squamish.

The 49-megawatt Ashlu River power proposal gives some insight into much larger forces at play. The entire North American electricity industry is being restructured to serve the U.S. market, and the people in the Squamish district are caught in the middle. The fight should set off alarm bells for all British Columbians concerned about the blatant giveaway of B.C.’s water resource and the increasing privatization of electricity generation. Why? Because there have been 469 applications for run-of-the-river water licences across B.C.

SFU adjunct professor John Calvert, a BC Citizens for Public Power representative on BC Hydro’s 2005 integrated electricity planning committee, told the Georgia Straight that for a corporation, a B.C. water licence costs little more than lunch money. “These sites may generate millions or tens of millions of revenue annually,” Calvert said. “Yet the water-licence fee for the largest-capacity run-of-the-river project—one that generates more than 20 megawatts—is capped at $10,000. Smaller facilities of less than 20 megawatts pay $5,000.”

These power projects usually involve diverting part of a river to a generating facility, and then returning water to the streambed. Unlike large hydroelectric dams, run-of-the-river projects do not involve flooding areas to create large reservoirs. The province charges licence holders separately for the water actually used, based on the amount of energy generated. “But the charge is not based on the price of that energy,” Calvert explained. “For smaller projects, the rate is $1.086 per megawatt-hour. Larger projects pay $5.069 per megawatt-hour—regardless of the price” of energy.

The Gordon Campbell Liberals support the creation of a continental energy market, and they’re using BC Hydro (already broken up to facilitate energy exports) as a vehicle to help accomplish this. The Independent Power Producers Association of BC represents private-power developers who have been handed a virtual monopoly on the creation of new electricity in B.C. through the provincial government’s 2002 energy plan. IPPBC members stand to make billions over the next couple of decades selling power—not just to BC Hydro and to the province, but to American buyers who may pay more for it. BC Hydro is already paying almost $450 million a year in energy purchases from the private sector.

The Squamish battle represents the last line of defence of a rational approach to managing public water rights and electricity markets. The community believes that the area’s pristine beauty has enormous potential as a tourist area. The SLRD board of directors is standing up against the Campbell government and the Ledcor Group, a huge transnational corporation and Canada’s second-largest construction company.

Ledcor, which donated $5,000 to the B.C. Liberals in 2005 before last year’s election, has seven other water licences or applications in the Ashlu drainage area. And while the dispute to date seems to be at a standoff, overshadowing it is the provincial government’s “hammer”: the Significant Projects Steamlining Act. The act gives Victoria the power to overrule any municipal authority or regional district on any issue it deems of “significant” importance to the province.

Ledcor’s proposal has cleared all provincial regulatory hurdles. However, it requires rezoning from the regional district, and that is where the fight is centred. The district has said no—so far. But it’s not just this one project. The opposition points out that it’s the impact of so many projects that makes them unacceptable.

Stuart Smith is spokesperson on the issue for the Squamish Whitewater Paddlers kayak club, and has been deeply involved in local land-use planning. “You have to look at the cumulative impact of seven or eight projects just in this area,” Smith told the Straight. “You have to add up the number of kilometres of streams that are diverted, the pipes diverting the water, all sorts of access roads and power lines crisscrossing the valley, and the substations that will have to be built.”

Smith said that the Ashlu River project would divert 40 to 50 percent of the flow of the river through a seven-kilometre pipe to the generating facility. This would leave an area of the river between the intake and return pipes with a significantly reduced water flow. The implications for recreational use are obvious, especially when one considers that Ledcor can increase the water taken in the future without further reviews.

Smith noted that this has already happened with two existing projects. “The Furry Creek plant went from 6.2 megawatts to 10 with no consultation, and Culliton Creek went from 4.5 megawatts to 12 megawatts with no review,” he said.

Yet for B.C. as a whole, the implications of these projects go beyond local environment and tourist-development concerns to the core of the B.C. Liberal government’s kowtowing to corporate interests. Calvert, an energy specialist in the previous NDP government’s Crown-corporations secretariat, claimed that the Campbell Liberals are handing over one of the province’s most valuable resources. And at the same time, he added, they are undermining B.C.’s future energy security by opening the door to private energy exports to the U.S., regardless of the province’s future electricity needs.

“It’s really quite outrageous, given how valuable this water resource is, that we get almost nothing for it,” Calvert said. “Down the road we will pay a huge price, because these power companies will eventually be able to sell to the highest bidder—in other words, into the U.S. market.”

The private investors who get in early on these deals can make millions after putting up almost no money of their own. This is because most projects are effectively funded by the public through long-term energy-purchase agreements with BC Hydro.

“I think many of the local investors will flip the ownership of the most lucrative sites, capitalizing on their enormous financial windfall by selling them to energy multinationals,” Calvert predicted.

How did this corporate giveaway come to pass? Governments of all stripes have messed with BC Hydro’s mandate, but the election of the pro-business Liberal government of Gordon Campbell brought bigger changes. “If one looks at the policy decisions that have been made, it seems clear that the government is moving incrementally to privatize the electricity system,” Calvert said.

Campbell first privatized most of the nongenerating services, handing them over to the transnational Accenture. The rest of BC Hydro he “restructured”—away from being a Crown corporation producing cheap, reliable power for B.C. into a purchaser of private energy at market prices. The newly spun-off BC Transmission Corporation is transforming the grid into a “common carrier” to enable private energy interests to ship electricity to the highest (read U.S.) bidder. Higher prices for B.C. energy are seen as vital to providing the incentive for more private power investment in the province.

If you thought we already had a reliable investor—BC Hydro itself—you would be right. But allowing a Crown corporation to become even more successful went against the grain for the Campbell Liberals. So they added a twist to the restructuring to guarantee that any new electricity generation would be done by private companies. The energy plan, in effect, barred BC Hydro—one of the most efficient power companies in the world—from generating any new power.

If Campbell is eager to punish the jewel of B.C.’s Crown corporations, he is even more eager to reward private investors. The money is so easy, it’s hard to know where to start. But a useful comparison might be with the oil-and-gas companies. At least they actually have to look for those energy resources. Not so the private power producers. In 1983 (and again in 2000 and 2002), the provincial government funded major studies of small hydro sites across the province, listing the locations, the amount of energy that could likely be produced, and various other critical data. All this is available for free to applicants. All they have to do is show up at a government office, pick a location, and apply for a water licence. These permits are given out on a first-come, first-serve basis.

Calvert pointed out that as the price of energy increases, the percentage return to government will decrease with the run-of-the-river projects. At $55 per megawatt-hour, B.C. citizens get about two percent of the revenue. But if energy prices increase to $100 per megawatt-hour (quite possible in the future), the public does not get a dime more and the percentage return drops to one percent. With oil and gas, on the other hand, there is a royalty rate applied to the selling price, so as prices go up, so does government revenue.

The legislation specifies that the normal term of a new water licence is 40 years. However, Calvert said that the existing licence holder can apply for the extension before the initial term has expired. He said this can transform the 40-year period into “what is, in effect, a permanent entitlement”.

The B.C. Liberal government has placed no effective restrictions on foreign ownership of water licences. Any investor can pay $351.51 to register as a B.C. company, regardless of their nationality, and is thus qualified to acquire a water licence. That brings NAFTA into the picture. Any attempt to moderate these projects’ windfall profits in the future could cause a U.S. or Mexican power producer to launch a challenge under NAFTA’s investment provisions, which prohibit “unequal” treatment of foreign investors.

The easy-money game plays out something like this. Developers, putting up virtually no capital except what’s necessary to pay for the licence and a few other expenses, obtain a water licence and keep bidding on energy-purchase agreements from BC Hydro. (About 40 of these have been signed since 2002.) Until they win a bid, they put their project on hold. When they do win a bid, they have in hand a 15- to 40-year contract to sell energy to BC Hydro. Then they go to their banker and present him with this long-term, guaranteed cash flow—a virtual shoo-in for a loan. And because BC Hydro is effectively backing the loan through the purchase agreement, the interest rate is very low. When the loan is paid down, the company owns the asset. The public, which has financed the arrangement, gets no assets, no protection from future price increases, and no guarantee that the energy will not be exported.

Who are these companies? One of them is Eaton Hydro. It boasts that its team has “over 100 years of energy and electricity experience”. What is interesting is where that experience came from. Dan Eaton is a financier, but his list of partners reads like a description of BC Hydro’s former executive suite. Don Swodoba is a partner. The company says: “Don has held senior positions at BC Hydro, including Senior Vice President Power Supply, VP Production and VP Operations.” Jim Gemmell hails from BC Hydro, too. Two other board members were also BC Hydro executives.

Run-of-the-river power generation is just part of the privatization of power production in B.C., but it reveals a feature common to the whole scheme: a rush to develop these for-profit projects with almost no oversight, and little public input. Gwen Barlee of the Western Canada Wilderness Committee expressed alarm at the process. “At the moment, there are hundreds of proposals across B.C. to access our rivers and streams for run-of-the-river hydro projects with no analysis of the cumulative impacts,” Barlee told the Straight. “Each one is approached as a ‘one off’. This gold-rush mentality ignores important questions relating to overall environmental impact.”

There are few legal options available to those who want these projects stopped or even slowed down. The only public-hearing process available is at the local level regarding rezoning, and even there the province holds the trump card if it chooses to play it. The NDP’s environment critic, Shane Simpson, admitted that at the moment the best strategy is simply making the public aware of this situation.

“We need to remove the shackles placed on BC Hydro with respect to renewable-energy projects,” Simpson told the Straight. “BC Hydro should be allowed to fully compete in the process, which would mean more scrutiny, more public input, and better management of a public resource.”

Right now, the critics are focusing on the Ashlu decision, which could influence how the B.C. government proceeds. In January 2005, the SLRD voted 8-1 to deny Ledcor’s rezoning application, but the company resubmitted a very similar proposal this past January. The SLRD, under enormous pressure from the province, deferred the decision, unleashing an intense campaign of threats and promises to get the rezoning approved.

Tom Rankin, a Squamish resident and a vocal critic of the project, told the Straight: “There are under-the-radar threats against the SLRD, such as: the province will remove the zoning authority; the province will give the Ashlu area to the Squamish Nation; the Squamish nation saying it will make life difficult for the SLRD—a threat heard several times at public hearings, and again at the January 2006 SLRD meeting.”

Squamish Chief Gibby Jacob is a key Ledcor ally. “The order of the day now is consultation and accommodation, and the [revenue-sharing] agreement with the company is very satisfactory to the Squamish Nation,” Jacob told the Straight. He said that the band has the option of purchasing the project outright at the end of Ledcor’s 40-year contract with BC Hydro.

The province’s pressure tactics even included an offer to put on hold the granting of new water licences in return for the region granting the rezoning. The offer was made in a letter to the regional district from Greg Reimer, deputy minister of the Ministry of Energy, Mines and Petroleum Resources. It reads, in part: “the Ministry is prepared to make a recommendation to Government that water reserves be placed on 10 of the 12 streams identified as a high priority for analysis by the SLRD Board....[but] Should the re-zoning not be approved, our recommendation regarding the water reserves will not proceed.” Nothing in the letter suggests the other licences won’t eventually be approved—only that there will be a “comprehensive review process”.

For its part, Ledcor has mounted a public-relations blitz, hiring a local firm, Cascadia Consulting, to lobby for the deal. Stuart Smith claimed that Cascadia is calling local kayakers. And, of course, the province has the ultimate weapon that it can use at any time. The Significant Projects Steamlining Act allows Victoria to nullify any local government decision if it deems a project important enough to the province. The SLRD is slated to decide the issue in June. All eyes will be on the council’s decision, which could reveal just how determined Campbell Liberals are to force through this key piece of the privatization of power in B



This Just In As Well........

Radical Changes Proposed to BC's Park Act
by Gwen Barlee • Thursday March 09, 2006 at 04:53 PM

Hydroelectric projects, industrial roads and motorized recreation being considered by provincial government for new “protected” areas.

Vancouver, BC ~ The British Columbia provincial government has quietly revisited the BC Parks Act and is considering imminently introducing a controversial new designation of protection. The proposed “conservancy areas” will apparently not rule out industrial road building, independent power projects, motorized recreation or the “sustainable” use and development of natural resources within the protected area boundaries.

The planned legislative changes, which have proceeded with no public input or consultation, were designed for newly protected areas in the Great Bear Rainforest.

On February 7, 2006 the BC government announced the protection of 1.8 million hectares in the central and north coast of British Columbia, an announcement that received worldwide media coverage and was warmly applauded by environmental groups. However, the protected areas in this groundbreaking agreement were supposed to be equivalent to “Class A” provincial parks in British Columbia, which receive the highest level of protection under the BC Park Act.

“This is really disturbing. The BC government promised world class protected areas, and what we appear to be getting are light industrial zones instead,” said Gwen Barlee, policy director with the Wilderness Committee. “One of the greatest concerns with this new designation is the amount of secrecy that has surrounded it. Where was the public consultation process? I’m sure if the government had a full and proper public consultation process that this idea would have been stopped dead in its tracks.”

The BC Liberal government has received significant criticism from environmental groups over the last five years for a series of policy announcements that have negatively affected parks and protected areas in BC. Weakening of the Park Act to allow development within park boundaries (including resorts), logging in parks, the introduction of parking meters in 41 provincial parks, and dramatic reductions to BC Parks funding and staffing levels has resulted in continued public relations problems for the provincial government.

“There are a lot of unanswered questions. Will the government be applying these quasi-protected area designations to existing parks and future protected areas in BC?” remarked Barlee. “What does the public think about run of river hydro projects, industrial roads, lodges and motorized recreation within protected areas? The BC government seems to have conveniently forgotten that our parks and protected areas were created by British Columbians to protect them from development in the first place.

Friday, March 17, 2006

Harper Takes A Page Out Of Gordon Campbell's style Of Dictatoship

Remember Gordon Campbell’s claim of we will have the most open and accountable government in British Columbia’s history leading up to the 2001 provincial election, only to end up with the most dictatorial, corrupt, unaccountable and secretive Provincial government of all time. I most certainly do!

So, now it appears that the Stephen Harper Government is following down the same path as the Gordon Campbell regime. I find this to be very disturbing and scary at the same time. Just think what is at stake here. This is just so typical of the right, what are they always trying to cover-up and hide anyways?

As I’ve said before, this is just another one of many reasons why we must not see a Harper Majority government in Canada!

Check this article out from the Globe and mail below and see how Harper is furthering his stranglehold on power and control just like Gordon Campbell did shortly after the 2001 election.


Harper restricts ministers' message
Officials urged to stick to five key priorities; PMO wants to vet all other public comment

CAMPBELL CLARK

From Friday's Globe and Mail

OTTAWA — Prime Minister Stephen Harper has imposed central control over all information and comments to the public issued by government officials and even cabinet ministers, directing them to have everything cleared by the Prime Minister's Office, according to an internal e-mail and government sources.

The orders, described in an e-mail to bureaucrats, indicate that ministers have been told to avoid talking about the direction of the government, and that the government wants them to be less accessible to the news media. And all government officials are instructed to avoid speaking about anything other than the five priorities outlined in the Conservative campaign.

"Maintain a relentless focus on the five priorities from the campaign. Reduce the amount of ministerial/public events that distract from the five priority areas identified in the campaign," the e-mail states.

"In order to keep a grip on such events [those that distract from priority areas], PMO will approve all ministerial events."

The seven-point e-mail summarizes a briefing that the federal government's top bureaucrat, Clerk of the Privy Council Kevin Lynch, and his senior official in charge of government communications, assistant cabinet secretary Dale Eisler, gave to the top communications official in several government departments last week. The e-mail was made by a senior bureaucrat who attended the meeting.

Government officials and Conservatives confirmed the instructions, including orders that the PMO clear all public communications — including minor comments and letters to local newspapers.

"PMO will have final approval for all communications products — even Notes to Editors or Letters to the Editor," the e-mail states.

The instructions reflect the extreme caution of a new government with few seasoned hands, worried that even its ministers might slip. It reflects a desire to create the perception that the government is focused — to differentiate itself from Paul Martin's Liberal government, which was widely criticized as having scattered attentions.

While government ministers are holding some events on issues not included in the five priorities — a Federal Accountability Act, a GST cut, a child-care allowance, tougher criminal sentences, and a patient waiting-times guarantee — such events are being kept to a minimum. Comments or information on other issues are closely guarded.

Since they were sworn in on Feb. 6, cabinet ministers have, for the most part, refused to grant interviews to reporters, providing only terse and often vague responses to questions outside cabinet meetings.

Last week, the Prime Minister's Office asked officials to remove the microphones that have for decades been set up in hallways outside cabinet meetings. When press gallery officials intervened, they backed off temporarily. Mr. Harper's press secretary, Carolyn Stewart-Olsen, said the issue would be discussed with gallery representatives. She then insisted reporters would have "more space" if they asked to see ministers in the Commons foyer.

The e-mail, however, suggests the government intends to reduce reporters' access to ministers to help them stick to their orders to say little about government plans.

"Set-up for post cabinet scrum is intentional — Ministers have been told they are not allowed to speculate on future direction of government," it states.

Ministers who have strayed from the government line have quickly issued retractions.

Foreign Affairs Minister Peter MacKay, who suggested some Canadian aid might flow to the Palestinian Authority despite the recently elected Hamas majority, reversed course the next day.

A spokesman for the Prime Minister, Dimitri Soudas, refused to comment yesterday on the e-mail's details.

Mr. Harper's PMO is not the first to want the final say on communications — but it has extended the practice to a level never seen in Ottawa.

The offices of prime ministers Jean Chr├ętien and Paul Martin demanded to approve major communications, and asked to be informed when ministers planned announcements or speeches. Now, government officials, and even ministers, must clear every interview or comment, and even the most anodyne pamphlet must get PMO clearance.

The restrictions on cabinet ministers were also evident last week when Finance Minister Jim Flaherty said Liberal equalization-payment deals made an incoherent mess of the system, even though the Conservatives had pushed for the offshore-resource deals with Newfoundland and Nova Scotia.

Later that day, Mr. Flaherty issued a statement protesting that he never referred specifically to Newfoundland or Nova Scotia or mentioned "oil and gas," but those two agreements were the only ones the Liberals had signed.

Sunday, March 12, 2006

BC Liberal Minister Bill Bennett Claims “they (NDP) will bring drunks to the polling booths on election day”

Hmm… I just can’t help think back to shades of Maui and an ex- Premier of BC with the same name as the Liberal Minister who also had an apparent problem with the bottle.

The arrogance rolls on. read it all over here.