Wednesday, July 30, 2008
One of the last publicly-owned assets in British Columbia -- the Insurance Corporation of B.C. -- was the most vulnerable to privatization by the new 79-member, fiercely anti-New Democrat government elected in 2001. Why didn't that happen? Why wasn't ICBC instantly privatized when the Campbell Gang took over?
It was no secret that private insurance hated ICBC. No secret that the new Premier danced to the tune of private corporate interests. Knowing this caused many people to wonder how ICBC -- the jewel of a hated former government's legislation -- had escaped such powerful hostility. How had ICBC alone survived all Campbell threats of privatization, while other public assets like BCRail, BC Ferries, BC Gas, BC Hydro (and more) had toppled so quickly?
Could it have been the very fact that ICBC was vulnerable with its province-wide car/truck world? Could it have been that unscrupulous people understood that scams could be inserted into ICBC's evaluations, its repair shops, its auctions, its record-keeping and accounting? And that ICBC might be made to provide its own cover-story? Is that why the Campbell government allowed its continued existence under government control?
The basic questions need to be asked -- why was ICBC allowed to survive when BC Hydro, etc., were not? By what criteria were some public assets gotten rid of, while another is kept?
Because, as we read Vaughn Palmer's columns, we can detect some disturbingly familiar patterns. - BC Mary.
ICBC scandal remains concealed by Liberals' all-purpose stonewall
Vancouver Sun -- Wednesday, July 30, 2008
VICTORIA - Dropped by the cabinet meeting Tuesday, seeking answers about the Insurance Corp. of B.C.
Ran smack dab into a stonewall erected by cabinet-minister-for-ICBC John van Dongen.
Was any compensation paid to anyone who left the employ of ICBC as a result of the scandal at the research centre?
"I can't comment on personnel matters," replied van Dongen. "There's a body of law around that."
Can't comment for legal reasons. That has become the all-purposes refuge for B.C. Liberals in this, their seventh year in office.
But why can't the minister provide a global figure for compensation?
"ICBC did whatever they felt they needed to do under the circumstances."
Does he approve of a government corporation paying compensation in a scandal like this one?
"I believe that they did whatever they could do and needed to do under the circumstances."
Cannot he as minister give a full accounting to the public of what happened here?
"I don't believe I can do that," he replied. "If I could, legally, I would like to do that. But I don't believe that I can disclose any more than ICBC can in terms of personnel issues."
The minister would like to tell all. He really would. But it is a personnel matter and his hands -- and tongue -- are tied by all the legal advice he's been getting.
I was marvelling at the convenience of this line of defence to a government determined to avoid further embarrassment for a scandal on its watch, when a colleague raised a follow-up question.
Should the public be satisfied by a response that discloses next to nothing?
"Personnel matters are covered by freedom of information and privacy issues," the minister explained.
"There is also litigation going on on this issue -- that has been publicly filed -- and I can't make any further comments on it."
So should the public be satisfied with the accounting they've been given?
"PricewaterhouseCoopers reviewed all of the actions of ICBC. They made a full accounting to the public. I think maybe we'd like to disclose more but we're doing -- we're disclosing whatever we legally can."
He thinks "maybe" the Liberals would like to disclose more. I think maybe that is the last thing they would like to do. You decide.
Strikes me, too, that this, the biggest scandal in ICBC's 35-year history, has done more damage to the image of the government-owned auto insurance corporation than any attack mounted by critics in the private sector.
Was anyone punished for it? I asked van Dongen. Did anyone pay any price at all?
"I can't comment on that. As ICBC has said, anyone who was in the line of authority -- that had responsibility for the [research] facility -- is no longer with the organization."
That's been the line, all right. Those responsible are no longer with the organization. But not a word about whether they were paid to go away.
One more try: We had a ferry sinking two years ago. We know the names of the people who were on the bridge, know, too, that they were fired.
Why does ICBC get special treatment, when, in a ferry accident that claimed two lives, we know the names of the people who were held accountable. Why the secrecy for ICBC?
"I don't know that we know everything about the ferries," he ventured.
Well, at least we know the names of the people on the bridge that fateful night.
"I'm relying on the legal advice that I've been given, that ICBC has been given," he said, resuming shelter behind that all-bases-covered legal opinion.
"As I said, there are matters in front of the courts right now involving employees in the line of authority of the [research] facility -- that are in litigation . . . . There is a police investigation going on as well."
Van Dongen made several references to litigation.
Presumably he was thinking of the lawsuit, brought by a former ICBC vice-president, who claims he was made a "scapegoat" for this scandal.
The departed executive is seeking $100,000 in bonus pay and damages atop an admitted severance payout of $300,000, which does tend to confirm that at least some compensation was paid out in this affair.
Was the minister thinking of that case when he referred to litigation?
"No comment," he replied, bringing the scrum to an end and heading off to join his colleagues around the cabinet table.
Van Dongen referred to "matters" before the courts and litigation involving "employees." Were there other lawsuits, as yet unpublicized, involving disgruntled ex-ICBC employees?
No, it turns out. In using the plural, the minister misspoke himself.
His staff says he is not aware of any other litigation arising out of his affair.
Mind, even if he were aware, he wouldn't be able to comment, because . . . well, you know the rest.
I'd like to thank Vaughn Palmer and The Vancouver Sun for these ICBC stories. We may argue that it's too little, too late. We may say that a partisan media has contributed to the problem. But now is now, and the old saying is: "Better late than never." It would be unthinkable, really, that Palmer and the Mainstream Media would never catch on ... and would never raise these questions. Heaven forbid. So, thank you, Vaughn, and Kirk. Just keep the stories coming, OK? - BC Mary.
How many things do they have to have under investigation or before the courts until the general public realizes that the largest criminal conspiracy in the province may well be operating out of Victoria and Point Grey? Biker gangs and Asian gangs should form study groups to analyze our government and learn how the real pros do it!
Here's an old: "What do you think it means if 50% of the lawyers in BC are at the bottom of English Bay?"
Answer: "A great start!".
It seems that every BC Liberal Minister who steps into a media scum leaves listeners and readers wondering "Just who are these lawyers (their names/companies) that are advising the government on different ways of saying "NO COMMENT?"
Is there a list?
Do lawyers show up on some financial statement on government reports?
Are the lawyers for the Government the same lawyers who advise the BC Liberal Party?
Have these lawyers made donations to the BC Liberals for election purposes?
Is the amounts involved greater than that which has been contributed by the likes of CN Rail?
However, there is no reason for ICBC, or the BC government, to protect the information re: severance packages for those who are out. A big question is did Paul Taylor, Campbell's buddy & appointee, collect a big handshake when he resigned at the breaking point of the scandal? It is in the public's interest to know these things. I'm thinking the Auditor General and Office of the Information & Privacy Commissioner might be interested in upholding the public's interest in knowing these details.
Here is a story by Les Leyne, in which a senior bureaucrat in Victoria resigned and collected a massive golden handshake. In fact, 3 CEO's from the B.C. Innovation Council were out and dined extravagantly on our dime in one year:
"Since "realigning strategic priorities" cost $459,000 in severance payments last year, here's hoping they've got their priorities straight this year."
To me, a black mark isn't some little tick in the bottom right hand corner on a Resume. Its being front and centre on the front page of newspapes and televison shows, where as a responsible CEO, he stands up for his Board and defends when he knew, what was happening, and what actions he took to deal with ICBC's in-house chop shop, and what steps he is taking.
As I read the newspaper today, it dawned on me that probably before the BC Liberals finally became government of British Columbia, they already knew what they had to do to get elected. First off they had to make the promise that BC Rail was not for sale, instead they leased it, and all future profits from that scheme would flow to the winner.... CN Rail and its shareholders.
This is what I wrote to Gary E:
Today's Vancouver Sun editorial "Record-breaking deal by Teck-Cominco says it all: Coal is the future" "sends a clear signal that coal will play an important role in the future of British Columbia."
I don't know why, but the Honourable Gordon Campbell cowardly deed of selling off BC Rail for peanuts, seems to prove that his interest in looking after "our" interests has now been defined by how he rewards his corporation buddies with the greatest of ease, at the public's expense.
The purhase by Tech-Cominco of Fording Canadian Coal Trust for the cool $14,000,000,000 ($14 billion) is just one example that yes indeed, BC is for sale.
The coal areas involve the south-eastern corner (Elk Valley Coal) of the British Columbia and coincidentally, I suppose, the north east corner as well. Its the north-eastern one that should be of interest seeing as how it WAS the publicly owned BC Rail that serviced the area surrounding Fort St. John. Thanks to Wikipedia for the BC Rail image
In the wake of the friendly takeover, reports are that there is enough coal in BC (world largest holder of the coal commodity) that will last at least two centuries, based upon current consumption.
So it seems that the gamble on the part of CN Rail to pay One Billion dollars????? to buy BC Rail (with a down payment of just over $64,000 as a donation to the BC Liberal Party for election purposes) is being paid back in spades.
The only question now is whether the Consolation Prize of Roberts Bank will become the dumping grounds for the export of BC's rich coal beds or Prince Rupert. Or will the bulk of it be used to extract gasoline for North American consumers like they are now doing in the first coal-to-liquids plant in the USA which has been green lighted in West Virginia with the help of ExxonMobil?
How about this tidbit of information from Mark Hume of the Globe and Mail(2005), which covers some forlorn little coal minining town called Mount Klappan, 330 km northeast of Prince Rupert. There is also this webpage from Rescan Environmental Services Ltd.
Go north young man, there's black gold still there, enough to last 200 years
End of comment posted to Gary E
Here's another coincidence, remember the financial back-breaker called the Dease Lake extension rail line, the one that was built to haul coal, the line that put BC Rail in debt to the tune of $500 million........ the one that will probably not be used by CN Rail, intentionally, for at least ten years or more, in other words, it will fit the words that the BC Liberals wrote into their secret deal when they sold BC Rail to CN Rail. Discontinued lines may be purchased by CN Rail as early as next year in July for outright control for ONE DOLLAR.
The above hot link article, is from - Business Wire, May 10, 2005 entitled "West Hawk to Acquire Historic Groundhog Coal Fields for CND $9.025 Million"
".....The Canadian National Railway, "CNR", recently purchased BCR and is providing a proposal to extend the track through the Groundhog project to access Fortune Mineral's "Mt. Klappan" coal project, located approx. 50 km north and presently in the project feasibility and environmental permitting stage."
"A lucky winner would be Pat Broe, the American who bought the Port of Churchill in 1997 almost as an afterthought, for a token $10 Canadian. Looking to expand his railroad company, OmniTrax, he had already paid $11 million for 810 miles of denationalized tracks in Manitoba. He acquired the port at auction, figuring he would rather own it than have someone else use it as a "toll booth" for his railroad."
Actually, the ten dollar figure is a "rounded off" one.... at the beginning of the article it states Broe bought the former Hudson's Bay port from the Canadian government in 1997 for about seven dollars!
What a shameful betrayal of this country and its people to see those we elected facilitate the "make-over" of Canada into a dollar store bargain shop for foreign interests.
Remember back in 1996 when Campbell opened his mouth and said he would privatize BC Rail. That statement basically cost him the election. So for 2001 what does he do? Makes a point of telling us he will not privatize it. But as we saw the first major item on his agenda was doing just that. They were working behind the scenes even before the election to sell the railway off. Thus, I allege, they had put forward the largest bald faced lie by any government in this country.
So, moving forward to 2008 we have a strange quietness coming from this government re the whole ICBC situation including Privatization. There were rumblings a couple of years ago, but then silence. They learned from their mistake in 1996 so now they just keep quiet.
Make no mistake my friends. If Campbell wins the next election he will not only privatize ICBC, he will complete the privatization of Hydro, major portions of the BC Rail bed will be sold for a dollar or shut down completely, site C will be built by the public and given to private enterprise, and all hell is going to break loose in the Arrow lakes region. (the Kootenays)
So the silence around these subjects is pretty much deafening, I believe.
By the way has anyone read Rafe Mairs' column in The Tyee. I think it pretty much sums things up in this province.
However if he actually believes his statement that: "With private insurance, you have a insurance company representing your interest and fighting for YOU." He is obviously too gullible to be let out of the house without adult supervision.
Private insurance companies are only fighting to protect and enhance their OWN bottom line. They would much rather give money to a lawyer if that would help in denying a claim than actually help an injured party if they can possibly avoid paying a claim.
As one who lived in Manitoba during the Autopac debate and the all out war by the private insurers to first defeat (unsuccessfully) the NDP and then Autopac itself, I've always been amused to watch an industry devote so much money and resources to an effort to protect their right to perform a "service" with no interest in their personal profit - NOT!
ICBC obviously could use some improvements and increased accountability (like the whole secret government of our province), but that is no excuse to throw out the baby with the bathwater or jump from the pan into the fire.
Palmer asks VERY legit questions. Who are the culprits and did BC tax payers PAY them for misdeeds?
And what about the criminal investigation? Why isn't there a regular drumbeat of coverage until the people get some answers?
A chop shop scandal of this caliber is nearly always indicative of deeper, more sinister corruption. WE need courageous reporters, employees and ex-employees to come forward and tell what they know. The only way to get rid of rats is to shine a bright lite on their den.