Monday, June 26, 2006
BC Rail process shrouded in secrecy
Joy MacPhail: If the B.C. Liberal government is interested in pursuing any level of accountability, the deal should be opened for scrutiny. It's not enough for the Premier to say he's willing to campaign on this in the next election. What's he going to campaign on? Open up the deal now.
Actually, here's why the government probably doesn't want to release the deal. Here's what we know already, taking a closer look. There are supposedly $1 billion of benefits for British Columbians. Wrong — $250 million of that is at risk.
It's not even guaranteed in terms of tax credits. We've had no ruling from the Canada Revenue Agency about whether CN is going to be able to use those tax credits to write down its own payment of taxes to Canada, so the taxpayers could be left on the hook for that $250 million if the Canada Revenue Agency doesn't agree with the Premier on the tax credits. It's the British Columbia taxpayers that will be on the hook for that.
Let's be clear. Even the $1 billion isn't $1 billion. CN is going to pay $250 million less in taxes than it would have prior to this deal because of this deal. How is that good news for Canadians or British Columbians that a private, publicly held corporation is going to be paying a quarter of a billion dollars less in taxes?
Then let's look at the figures of the rest of the $750 million. Some of it's going to go to deserving projects — deserving projects that didn't need to have the B.C. Rail deal at all. The government could have committed to these projects regardless, but I certainly hope that the government is going to proceed with these projects. They haven't yet proceeded on any of the projects. They're deserving, and I hope that the money is well used, because our communities in the north need all the help they can get. They have been completely ignored by this government to date.
Here's what some of the projects are: $4 million for an expansion to the Prince George Airport; $17.2 million to fund expansions at the port of Prince Rupert, even though that expansion requires $54 million; $15 million for a first nations' trust fund that has become incredibly controversial already with this Minister of Transportation trying to use it as a claim of support for the B.C. Rail deal and the aboriginal leaders saying, "Uh uh. Not so"; $135 million for a northern development initiative. Good news — all of that. However, the total amount of that funding is 17 percent of the billion dollars that CN is claiming to pay that goes to our communities. That's the best-case scenario. Dig deeper, and it gets even a little more sketchy.
The northern development initiative. Some $60 million will be divided into four regional funds: the Peace gets $15 million, Prince George gets $15 million, the northwest gets $15 million and the Cariboo-Chilcotin gets $15 million. It's $15 million each, so the entire Peace region gets $15 million out of a billion dollars. That's 1.5 percent of the entire deal. Is that a good deal for the Peace when the mayors along the line are saying, "Uh uh. Hold off. Suspend the deal until the police investigations are over"? They're getting a total of $15 million. That's it. The northwest, the entire northwest, gets the same — $15 million.
So much of this process and this announcement are wrapped up in suspicion and secrecy. The other bidders complained about the process. One even dropped out. The winner was a major donor to the Liberal Party. The fairness adviser raised serious concerns about leaks. The government said not to worry. The Premier isn't showing us the deal. We have no idea when the competition bureau is going to be finished. I was told it would take three to six months. We're at the end of the fifth month now. There are serious land claims issues that need to be done. All of this is being done under a continuing cloud of secrecy by the government.
I'm going to go through the B.C. Rail deal in time lines and ask a series of questions. June 5, 2001, a month after the Liberals sweep the B.C. provincial election, Dave Basi is named the ministerial assistant to Finance minister Gary Collins. Bob Virk becomes ministerial assistant to Transportation minister Judith Reid.
By the way, it was in April of 2001, during the election, that the B.C. Liberals added to their new-era platform. It had not been part of the new-era platform before April when the B.C. Liberals held a news conference and said: "We are committing to not sell B.C. Rail after much consultation." They actually held a news conference and added that promise to the New Era document, because of course, we know in 1996 they said they were going to sell B.C. Rail, and they lost the north.