Thursday, February 05, 2009

 

Historic moments in the dying hours of BC Rail

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Remember how it was? During the 1996 BC election campaign, Campbell promised to sell BC Rail and use the money to reduce the debt. He lost that election. During the 2001 election, he switched to saying that if elected he would not sell BCRail. His Socred/Reform/Liberals won that election.

A few days ago, someone who volunteers as a Wikipedia editor asked me to find a direct quote by Gordon Campbell declaring that he would NOT sell BC Rail. Phhttt, I thought. Easy peasy.

Within an hour, I had my comeuppance. Although there are hundreds of references to Campbell's promises, there is virtually no record of Campbell ever saying such a thing. We know that he did make those declarations -- both to save BC Rail, and to sell BC Rail. Those declarations should be in the public records. But they're not. Here's a quick test:

Try Googling a column by Vaughn Palmer originally published in Vancouver Sun titled CONFESSION COMES BACK TO HAUNT CAMPBELL. You'll get 1,530 hits, none of them about Gordon Campbell or his promises. A search of Vancouver Sun produced nothing. Only by a bit of good luck for me, Citizen Journalist "Lynx" had found and kept a copy of Palmer's column published in "BC Talk".

With these clues, I found a significant discussion in Hansard. But in the end, I wrote to Vaughn Palmer and it was through his generosity that I obtained a complete copy of his column.

Somebody please tell me that this is simply a co-incidence. Tell me that everybody just forgot to keep copies of Campbell's declarations FOR and AGAINST selling BC Rail. Because I don't want to think what I'm thinking: that there may be busy fingers going through the public record and weeding out news reports which embarrass Gordon Campbell or make him feel uncomfortable or god forbid, tarnish his reputation.

We know that Wikipedia is in a constant and admirable debate reconciling various points of view. But Wiki, in the end, demands that each statement must be sourced. Which is why my friend asked for help. He wasn't finding those sources for Gordon Campbell either.

Having studied the Dieppe Raid of 1942, I do know this sort of alteration can happen. Lord Louis Mountbatten, is a perfect example of a public figure who agitated for decades after WWII to weed out or mitigate any blame for the dumb military idea which cost over 900 Canadian casualties in one morning in 1942. But that was a world war. Terrible things happen during a world war. People go a little crazy. I never dreamt that similar practices could be occurring on a daily basis, here and now.

It's true that it's easy find hundreds of references to Campbell's promises which had altered the shape of two B.C. elections and the shape of B.C.'s development. But it was a long time before I found even one example of his own declarations -- and here it is -- an astonishing parade of weasel words titled "State of the Province Address" by Gordon Campbell dated February 12, 2003

Excerpt (from Page 5 of 9 pages), a speech by Gordon Campbell:

Some people have suggested we should sell BC Rail. We simply won’t do that. Northern mayors have said it’s time for a change: it’s time for us to come up with some innovative solutions to the challenges that confront BC Rail. They’ve told us we shouldn’t sell the rail bed, and we won’t. They’ve told us we should keep the tracks, and we will. But they’ve also told us it’s time to look for an investor who will invest in our infrastructure and make sure that we have an operator who can deliver services to the customers that are necessary for our northern communities to thrive. That’s what we intend to do. Within the next few weeks, we’ll be issuing a request for proposal to do just that. I am going to be establishing a mayors council to provide their input and advice on that request for proposal because we know how important BC Rail is to their future. This initiative will bring in millions of dollars, it will retire BC Rail’s debt, and it will provide resources to invest in other northern transportation and infrastructure projects across the province.

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Next is Paul Nettleton, originally a BC Liberal M.L.A. for Prince George -- always a supporter of BC Rail for BC -- but who has seen the BC Rail story from both sides. First he speaks as Campbell's designated BC Rail Opposition critic; after that, Paul Nettleton as an Independent M.L.A., speaks in the BC Legislature in support of the BC Railway Asset Protection Act at 2nd Reading on November 17, 2003.

Excerpt from Vaughn Palmer column, Nov. 20, 2003:

... One of the most significant items in the [Gordon Campbell] confessional had to do with a region, the north, where the Liberals turned in their worst showing on election day, winning just two of a possible nine seats.

He'd misunderstood the north, Mr. Campbell admitted: "Northern strategies should be built in the north by northerners and the benefits of northern resources should be used to help deliver those services that are essential to the communities and people who live there."

One Liberal proposal had particularly galled the region, as Mr. Campbell acknowledged: "Our BC Rail policy was wrong for northerners."

It was a reference to a line in the election platform that said "The B.C. Liberals will sell BC Rail and use the proceeds to pay down the provincial debt."

The promise -- "threat" is the better word -- may well have made the difference between winning and losing in several ridings in the north, as Mr. Campbell pretty much conceded.

"We cannot forget these critical lessons as we move forward," he assured convention delegates. "And we will not forget them."

On BC Rail, his northern-friendly approach was already taking shape. He'd turned the question of the railway's future over to Paul Nettleton, the newly elected member of the legislature from Prince George-Omineca and one of the two to carry a northern seat against the anti-Liberal tide.

"I have asked Paul Nettleton to make recommendations on how to improve BC Rail's contribution to the economies of the north and the province," Mr. Campbell announced. "I am sure it will be a central focus at the northern economic forums we are planning."

That was the situation as of Feb. 22, 1997, the day Opposition leader Campbell delivered his mea culpa to his party's convention. This week the specifics of that speech came back to haunt Premier Campbell.

For on Monday that same Mr. Nettleton, now styling himself as an Independent, got up in the legislature to recount the assignment he received from Mr. Campbell almost seven years ago ...

______________________________________________________________


Later, Paul Nettleton quit the Campbell Liberals and won re-election as an Independent M.L.A. Here is an excerpt from the Hansard record of his Nov. 17, 2003 speech to stop the sale of BC Rail:


P. Nettleton: I rise in support of this bill, which is a private member's bill intended to stop the sale of B.C. Rail.

My perspective is a little different, I think, from the members of the opposition, in that my first encounter with folks in Prince George who had strong feelings with respect to B.C. Rail dates back to 1996 during the election campaign, when I was going door to door with my wife. I hadn't lived in that part of the country terribly long at the time, so for me it was an introduction of myself, and it was also an opportunity to listen and learn from folks in terms of what was important to them.

One of the things that was brought to my attention during that campaign — as I say, it was the campaign of 1996 — was that B.C. Rail was an issue that ran very deep in terms of people's emotional attachment. During the course of that campaign, I also ran into a number of men — I don't know that I ran into any women, but certainly a number of men — who supported their families working for B.C. Rail. I recall some of them telling me, in fact: "You know, you seem like a decent enough guy, and the B.C. Liberal Party is a party that has a lot of appeal. But B.C. Rail is, for us, a big issue, and that's an issue on which we're going to cast our vote." This meant, in fact, that the vote would be cast not for the B.C. Liberals but rather for the NDP.

That was my first introduction to B.C. Rail and, as I say, the strong sentiment not only in Prince George but beyond with respect to the issue of B.C. Rail and the sale of B.C. Rail. The election of 1996 — for those of us that were there, and I know there are a few members here who were there in 1996 and were fortunate enough to be elected in 1996 — certainly didn't have the result that I had expected, in that I was the only member elected as a B.C. Liberal in the north. Certainly, B.C. Rail was part of that outcome, I expect.

Following the election — the election which saw a majority NDP government and a very strong but nevertheless unsuccessful B.C. Liberal opposition — one of the things that happened was the then Leader of the Opposition, who is now Premier, met with us. I recall him meeting with me in Prince George and assigning roles to members of the then opposition, now government, to take on critic portfolios. I remember meeting with the Leader of the Opposition, and he assigned to me the role as critic of B.C. Rail. So I gladly took that task on.

For those of us here that recall what it was like to be a critic, I think there were a lot of benefits in terms of really digging deep into a given ministry, or a subset of a ministry in this case. B.C. Rail, of course, fell within the ministry for which the then minister, Dan Miller, was responsible, which involved northern interests, energy and mines, and so forth. I gladly took on that role. Again, as I say, it had been brought to my attention during the course of the election. I knew that the then Leader of the Opposition had committed to the province as a whole that he would sell B.C. Rail, and there was some sense in which that was problematic, particularly for those candidates of the north that were defeated.

Being a critic involved doing a number of things beyond just asking questions during the estimates process. It involved the opportunity to travel to North Vancouver and meet with the then head and CEO of CN and head of B.C. Rail, Paul McElligott, and his board. Paul McElligott, who is now the CEO of TimberWest, was really a free enterprise kind of guy. Under his watch, B.C. Rail was really run in very much a free enterprise type of setting, as much as one can achieve that within the context of a Crown corporation. It was highly diversified; it involved much more than just the railbeds. It involved BCR Ventures, which involved joint ventures in mining and so forth throughout the north. It had a real estate arm, it had a telecommunications arm, and it had Vancouver Wharves. In any event it was highly diversified, highly successful, and paid large dividends to the provincial government at the time — millions of dollars every year. Well, not every year, but certainly it generated millions of dollars, and on occasion it was tapped for those moneys.

It was interesting to meet with Mr. McElligott to get some sense of the challenges with respect to B.C. Rail. One of the things we did as critics, of course, was report out to the other opposition members with respect to our findings as to the direction, in this instance, of B.C. Rail.

My position personally hasn't changed with respect to B.C. Rail. I understand, I think, something of the emotional attachment with respect to B.C. Rail from men and women who have in many cases worked their lives on B.C. Rail and have seen the north opened up to development and opportunity and growth, and so forth, as government has shown a commitment to the north by way of B.C. Rail over the years. My position certainly hasn't changed, but the Premier, the then Leader of the Opposition, following the election of 1996 publicly made an apology with respect to B.C. Rail. Our position — that is, the B.C. Liberals' position on B.C. Rail — firmly committed that we had learned our lesson. In fact, we would not sell B.C. Rail should we be successful in 2001.

Now, the B.C. Liberals talk about new-era commitments. I took that to be a commitment. I took the Premier, the man who's now the Premier, at his word — that when he said we would not sell B.C. Rail, he was as good as his word. That, we now know, is not the case. Shortly after the election of 2001, we see a government that has moved very quickly. There's been speculation as to why that might be, why there's been this flip-flop, this breaking of the commitment on B.C. Rail. I think the opposition has laid out rather carefully and in a way that people can understand some of the reasons why, perhaps, government is now moving as it is to sell B.C. Rail.

One of the things I will say quickly in closing, because I know I'm running out of time, is that the public sentiment with respect to B.C. Rail — the same sentiment that I encountered in 1996 going door to door in Prince George talking to people — hasn't changed. People are for the most part, along the line and certainly in Prince George and beyond, opposed to the sale of B.C. Rail — what's left of B.C. Rail, given that B.C. Rail now really is just the freight service. Everything else has been sold off, so B.C. Rail is not what it used to be.

That public sentiment hasn't changed, and I'm delighted to be able to stand here today in support of this bill which has been introduced by the opposition. Thank God there's something of an opposition here. I shudder to think what in fact would happen if there wasn't. I'm delighted to stand here for my constituents and say that I support this bill, and I oppose the sale of B.C. Rail.

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Now a speech by Joy MacPhail, Leader of the two-person Opposition. How strange and dangerous the atmosphere must have been in the BC Legislature at that time. Gordon Campbell had lost the election of 1996 causing him to spend 5 unhappy years as Opposition leader. In 2001, a series of nasty events transpired which, taken together, propelled Campbell into unheard-of power with 77 Liberal/Socred/Reform Members facing an Opposition of only the two New Democrats who survived.

What restraint was there? What balance, caution, leadership? Not much. It was The Wild West run by mavericks. The litmus test was when common decency failed, and normal office staff was denied to the two women standing as Opposition, because, said Campbell, of their low number. This small but ruthless act, in my view, stamped the Campbell government as indifferent to the proper function of the legislature.

So in this atmosphere, Joy MacPhail stood in the BC Legislature on November 17, 2003, to present for 2nd reading, the B.C. RAILWAY ASSET PROTECTION ACT. With no hope of winning, she faced the anger of 77 hell-bent government members and made a courageous speech for the history books.


From Hansard, November 17, 2003:
Second Reading of Bills

BRITISH COLUMBIA RAILWAY
ASSET PROTECTION ACT, 2003

J. MacPhail: I rise to debate a piece of legislation, a private member's bill introduced by me last spring. The bill is called the British Columbia Railway Asset Protection Act, 2003. It's very brief but very succinct. I'll read it into the record:

"Preamble
Whereas the government has initiated a process to sell the British Columbia Railway;
Whereas, despite the government's misrepresentations, British Columbia Railway is a profitable business; and,
Whereas the people of British Columbia do not believe that government owned assets should be sold off to pay for this government's record deficits and failed economic policies;

THEREFORE HER MAJESTY, by and with the advice and consent of the Legislative Assembly of the Province of British Columbia, enacts as follows:
1 Section 20 of the British Columbia Railway Act [RSBC 1996] Chapter 36 is repealed and replaced with the following:
20 Neither the government nor the company may lease or sell any part of the lines and property of the company.
Commencement
2 This Act comes into force upon Royal Assent."

There we have it, Mr. Speaker. It's very succinct — nothing complicated. Nothing can be misunderstood, and there's every opportunity now for those Liberal MLAs who represent the communities served by the British Columbia Railway — by BCR, as we know it — to vote in favour of this piece of legislation and actually, for once, to stand up for their communities.

I do rise, though, in what some might call a fight against inevitability. This bill is our last chance to listen to the thousands upon thousands of British Columbians calling for the government to abandon its intentions to sell off B.C. Rail, a publicly owned company that is a profitable company and an incredible part of our heritage.

On Friday it was reported in the Vancouver Sun — and as far as I'm concerned, the Vancouver Sun is often the paper of record for this government…. We were told the cabinet has already made up its mind. Now, the government is not confirming, directly anyway, the Vancouver Sun story, but it sure seemed to me they were getting the story from some pretty reliable sources — perhaps even out of the Premier's office itself, as I understand it. Anyway, I assert that this cabinet, under Gordon Campbell, has already made up its mind. In a desperate attempt to cover for their failed economic plan, they are going to sell off B.C. Rail, and they're going to sell it to CN, a corporation that has donated over $100,000 to the Liberal coffers — the B.C. Liberal coffers — since 1996.

Of course, this decision has been made despite the new-era promise not to sell any part of B.C. Rail. They didn't equivocate in the election. They didn't stand up with the member for Prince George North and say: "Yeah, we're going to sell off all of B.C. Rail except for the railbed and"— I don't know; what is it called? —"the tracks." No. They didn't equivocate at all. The Premier went and said: "B.C. Rail is not for sale."

I thought the now Premier was doing that because he had learned his lesson from his disaster of the 1996 election. In 1996 the now Premier, running as the Liberal leader, said then, "Oh, we are going to sell B.C. Rail," and the communities along B.C. Rail — in fact all throughout northern B.C. — went nuts, as did the people of the lower mainland.

We thought he'd learned his lesson, but apparently the Premier is willing to make the same mistake twice. Now, what is that the definition of — when you keep repeating the same mistakes and hope for a different outcome? Some people define that as insanity. I think it may just be stupidity.

Well, apparently we also now know that the promises in the New Era document are worthless. The Liberals have bungled the economy, and now they need to sacrifice B.C. Rail to pay for their mistakes. This government is desperate to privatize something, desperate to get cash to cover for their reckless tax cut. Why else, except for that desperation, would they sell out communities and break a fundamental election promise?

I don't see any of the good Liberals rising up and taking their Premier to court, saying he lied. I don't see that. They were certainly championing others to take previous governments to court about a suspected lie, which proved not to be a lie at all. I don't see one Liberal taking the government to court now, saying they lied in the last election.

D. Jarvis: How about the fudge-it budget?

J. MacPhail: The Liberals failed to privatize the Coquihalla.

Well, actually, the member for North Vancouver–Seymour says: "What about the fudge-it budget?" Actually, a bunch of Liberal front people did take that government to court saying they lied during the election, and the court said there was no lie. The court said there was no lie whatsoever.

Where are the same people? Where's that same guy — the Liberal front man who ran for the nomination? Where's he taking this government to court, saying they lied about selling off B.C. Rail? I wonder whether he's been silenced or whether it was just election mischievous behaviour by this government so that they could get into power and actually tell real lies. That's exactly what's happened.

The Liberals failed to privatize the Coquihalla, which ended up costing taxpayers millions of dollars. They failed to privatize B.C. liquor stores. Now they're trying to make up for that by doing a behind-the-scenes giveaway to all those small business people who invested so much in the privatization of liquor stores. But they're having to do it behind the scenes, after getting egg on their faces.

Do you know why they failed, Mr. Speaker? Because the public does not believe in the same ideological hard line that they do. The public knows it is wrong to sell off our assets to private companies just to make a quick buck. The public does not want this.

Unfortunately, the Liberals have been backed into a corner by their big corporate donors. "Privatize or else," they're saying. I can just see those cabinet meetings now, those private little luncheons that this government has with its big donors. I can just see them wagging their fingers and saying, "You'd better privatize B.C. Rail. You've failed at everything else. Privatize or else. Sell off something or else," and our northern communities will pay the price.

Maybe it isn't too late. Right here, right now the opposition is giving every Liberal MLA a chance to stop this misguided sell-off. They were forced to listen to their constituents on the Coquihalla. They should listen to them now.

Interjections.

Mr. Speaker: Order, please. The Leader of the Opposition has the floor.

J. MacPhail: From North Vancouver to Lillooet to Prince George, people are saying no. This is the chance for the Liberal MLAs to do the same: use their supposed free vote and stand up for their constituents.

On November 5, I tabled a petition that was signed by over 32,000 British Columbians. It was entitled "Stop the Sale of B.C. Rail." The petitioners noted that B.C. Rail is a profitable business vital to the future economic prosperity of resource-dependent communities. In fact, one prominent business person from Prince George, who had signed this petition, wrote: "A lie is a lie is a lie."

Surely the MLAs from Prince George must be listening — 32,000 people. Their constituents are outraged. This is the chance they have to publicly stand up for their community and truly represent their wishes.

However, I predict this. I predict that they'll be whipped to vote down this bill and follow the ideological commands of the Premier. But maybe there is a chance; maybe there is a slight chance. Maybe they spent the weekend listening. Maybe they got a chance to listen to something other than the minister's ever-changing message box.

Boy, that Minister of Transportation. Can she switch on a dime? Is she fleet-footed and dancing on the head of a pin? For months now the Minister of Transportation has changed her script so many times, I actually think it's a reality show. There is no script that she's not capable of absorbing at a moment's notice. No one really knows for sure why this government is so determined to sell off B.C. Rail and sell out the communities. What we do know is that pretty much every day the Minister of Transportation gets up and is handed a new message box as her own one of the previous day is torn to shreds by logic and the facts.

I heard one of the Liberal members saying: "Did the previous government ever consider selling B.C. Rail?" Well, as good business people, the previous government examined the profitability of every Crown corporation…

Interjections.

Mr. Speaker: Order, please. Order, please. Order.

J. MacPhail:…and upon examination of B.C. Rail, year after year, it got its marching orders.

Interjection.

Mr. Speaker: Order. Order, please. The Leader of the Opposition has the floor.

J. MacPhail: It was profitable. It became competitive. It shed its baggage, and the government of the day said B.C. Rail is needed for northern communities. What does this government do? They get behind closed doors, they shut their doors, they hold a secret process with their biggest political donors, and then they misrepresent the value of that corporation. Well, pretty much everybody in northern British Columbia is on to this government now.

Every day or so over the last month, the government changed its story about why it's breaking the new-era promise on B.C. Rail. For the longest time the Minister of Transportation insisted that B.C. Rail just wasn't profitable. Well, clearly, this government wasn't examining the books in a way the previous governments did. Clearly, they were completely misrepresenting the status of that corporation.

Mr. Speaker: Please, order. Hon. member, we're getting dangerously close to unparliamentary wording with the use of the words "misrepresent" and "lying," so I would ask you to please come back to parliamentary language.

J. MacPhail: This government was continuously avoiding the revelation that B.C. Rail was a profitable corporation. When the opposition brought forward internal government documents showing that B.C. Rail is one of the most profitable rail companies in North America, the minister responsible quickly danced on the head of a pin. She changed her tune, and all of a sudden it wasn't that the corporation wasn't profitable; it was that the debt was too high. But then the opposition brought forward a B.C. Rail report for September 2003 that painted a very clear picture about its position in comparison to other companies. Some of those companies that compared poorly in their debt load to B.C. Rail are the very companies this government wants to sell B.C. Rail to now. Gee, that's going to be good for the customer, isn't it? Let's sell off a profitable corporation that can manage its debt to a big, high political donor who has a greater debt load and won't be able to give any competitive pricing to the customers.

The report showed that the debt-to-equity ratio for B.C. Rail as reported to the management of B.C. Rail is at 1.2. Compare that to the CN debt-equity ratio. That figure says that B.C. Rail is right in the thick of things, and it's exactly the same as CP's debt ratio. So the debt-to-equity ratio of B.C. Rail is exactly within the same parameters as the two major competitors to which this government wants to sell B.C. Rail for a song. They said: "Oh no, the debt load is way too hard for the corporation to manage." Well, no, it isn't. The shippers, the customers of B.C. Rail, are paying a competitive price because it's got a debt load that it can manage. The shippers ain't gonna get one iota of a break on pricing if the government gives this corporation away to CN or CP, because their debt-to-equity load is no better, and they're not nearly as profitable as B.C. Rail.

If it's all about price competitiveness for customers, as the Liberals proclaim, then B.C. Rail is doing just fine. In fact, it's doing the best of any of the rail lines in British Columbia, and there's no need to sell it off. The minister was adamant that B.C. Rail's debt was out of control, but the debt ratio as listed in internal documents completely contradicts that assertion. The truth is that the debt load at B.C. Rail is not out of control. It's completely competitive. My colleague the member for Vancouver–Mount Pleasant will explore that myth perpetuated by this government even further.

The Minister of Transportation and this Liberal government refuse to hear the facts around B.C. Rail, because it destroys their rationale for breaking their new-era promise. On the issue of profitability, other internal documents from B.C. Rail confirm that its profit was $72 million last year, and it's going to make even more this year. B.C. Rail is a profitable company with a manageable debt and a reliable service as well as competitive prices. But once again, the Minister of Transportation switches her message box in a desperate attempt to justify the sell-off.

Two weeks ago the minister was arguing that improvements at B.C. Rail were the result of unexpected volume in the forestry sector and that she thought the forestry sector was going to do worse. She said: "Oh, don't be buoyed by a profitable B.C. Rail because of our forest sector. We can't count on our forest sector getting any better. In fact, it's probably going to go down, decline." Gee, what a great government this is. We need to sell off B.C. Rail because we've messed up the economy so badly that the forest sector is in decline.

She and all the rest of the B.C. Liberal MLAs went: "Yeah, that's right. Forestry is going to get worse. Forestry is on the decline, and that's why B.C. Rail can't be expected to sustain a profit." That doesn't hold any weight either. It's simply more evasion and more misinformation in a desperate attempt to hold on to a shred of credibility. Make no mistake: this sell-out is about a cash grab, not sound policy.

Here's some information uncovered and reported by the Prince George Citizen on November 7. The article refutes the minister's claim that B.C. Rail's turnaround is a one-hit wonder because of changes in the forest sector.

"B.C. Rail's operating turnaround in 2002 had more to do with its cost-cutting measures than increases in revenue from forest products, a review of the Crown corporation's financial results by the Citizen shows.

"The figures in the 2002 report appear to undermine arguments by both shippers and the B.C. Liberal government that B.C. Rail's improved financial results are not sustainable because they are a result of increased lumber shipments to counter the softwood lumber dispute within the U.S., shipments which both say won't last indefinitely.

"A growing coalition of business, political and labour representatives in Prince George argue there's no need to sell a profitable B.C. Rail. The Liberals and the shippers say a private operator is needed because B.C. Rail is hampered by a mountain of debt and doesn't provide adequate service."

I continue to quote from the Prince George Citizen article.

"B.C. Rail's 2002 annual report shows the forest products revenues were up six percent over 2001 to $171 million. The impact from lumber shipment increases may be even less as lumber accounted for only one-third of forest product revenues and one-fifth of the total revenues. Our forest products shipped are pulp, wood chips, logs, poles and forest products.

"At the same time, operating expenses were reduced by $37.2 million or 19 percent, which was noted as significant in the 2002 annual report. 'An overall focus on efficiency and higher-yield traffic, consistent with the '02-04 strategic goals caused the reduction in expenses,' the annual report of B.C. Rail said.

"Other highlights of the 2002 financial results were improved income of $51 million, reducing total operating expenses by $25 million, and short- and long-term debt reduction by $54 million."

This is exactly what the B.C. Rail corporation has been doing throughout the 1990s and continues in '01, '02 and '03, because this government has not yet messed it up.

The company has become cost-competitive. It has shed its unproductive assets. It has a workforce that is top-of-the-line in the industry. The productivity of its workforce is unparalleled, and all of those changes have come about at great cost to those workers. Hundreds of jobs were shed by B.C. Rail throughout the 1990s. The result is a competitive, effective organization that returns a profit to the taxpayers and also offers a benefit solely for British Columbia and those northern communities.

It's time this government stopped trying to spin British Columbia. They have been evading the facts and spreading misinformation for months. The Minister of Transportation has been relentless in attacking the status of B.C. Rail. It's time this Liberal government paid attention to the facts. The financial statements and reports show that B.C. Rail's profit margins for regional carriers remain above Canadian National, Canadian Pacific and every other class of railways. B.C. Rail is the highest in the industry for its quarter profits as well as for its year-to-date profits.

Despite the minister's assertion to the contrary, B.C. Rail is competitive and efficient. They have the highest productivity rate amongst all rail lines, and they are the first rail line to have an operating margin of below 70 percent — the first rail line in all of North America to have an operating ratio where they spend about 69 cents to make a dollar. No other rail line in all of North America is that productive.

Interjection.

J. MacPhail: Oh God. Honestly, the lack of understanding of business concepts by this Liberal government never ceases to amaze me.

Interjections.

Mr. Speaker: Order, please.

Interjections.

Mr. Speaker: Order, please, hon. members. Order, please.

J. MacPhail: Unfortunately for them, the people of British Columbia are on to them. If the government pushes ahead with its plans to sell B.C. Rail….

P. Bell: How many seats do you have? I forget.

J. MacPhail: It also is very interesting — the arrogance of this government. The member for Prince George North says: "How many seats do you have?" Perhaps he got a seat because his Premier promised not to privatize B.C. Rail. Did he ever think of that?

Perhaps the reason why the members for Prince George are here is because…

Interjections.

Mr. Speaker: Order, please.

J. MacPhail: …the Premier went and didn't tell the truth to the people of British Columbia. They sit here in their arrogance and refuse to acknowledge that they said something different during the election to the people of Prince George than what they're doing now. The arrogance is unbelievable.

If this government pushes ahead with its plans to sell B.C. Rail, British Columbians are going to lose a company that is profitable and competitive. Despite all of this, we hear from the government MLAs that the government's going to push ahead. They're so desperate for cash, desperate to compensate for their dismal economic record.

To save themselves, cabinet is going to sell B.C. Rail, break a fundamental election promise and sell out communities throughout this province like Squamish, Lillooet and Prince George. These are the communities already hurt by the crunch of the softwood lumber dispute, by school closures and by cuts to health care. Selling off B.C. Rail will only make things worse as hundreds of people along the B.C. Rail line are laid off. If the winning bidder is the chief Liberal donor, CN, the layoffs will be devastating. The Liberals are ready to throw that hardship onto B.C. communities and families for nothing more than a desperate cash grab.

This bill is the last opportunity we have to stop the damage before it begins. It is time to protect this profitable asset and protect our communities against a minister, a cabinet, a government caucus and a Premier desperate for cash, desperate to privatize no matter what the cost to the communities is ....

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More later. - BC Mary.

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Comments:
P. Nettleton: Thank God there's something of an opposition here. I shudder to think what in fact would happen if there wasn't. Nov. 17, 2003- Hansard
 
It's amazing that more people don't read Hansard and chase things like on line references from others. The estimates alone bring out tons of information. Question Period is usually pretty good as well.
 
Why is the false prophet, "desperate for cash"?
 
And the January 2009 job losses in BC were what? 30+ thousand?
This railway was not sold it was given away with no net cash to this province. At least when we had the railway there was some money for education and health. Where is that money going to come from today? P3's? If it does it will only be for the already rich.
 
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Gary E,

I just had a look at Strategic Thoughts where Dave Schreck is talking about job losses in B.C. Have a look, it's well argued, and well sourced.

What do you think of this comment, where he says:


You might remember Campbell's promise not to expand gambling. In 2000-2001 the government's take from gambling was $414 million; in that fiscal year its income from MSP premiums was $895 million. This year the Campbell government expected to receive $1.1 billion from gambling (up 265%) and $1.57 billion from MSP premiums (up 75%). Campbell forgot to tell you about his plans for gambling and MSP before the vote in 2001.

The same shell game will be played in the 2009 election as was played in 2001. One thing will be said during the campaign and something completely different will be said the day after.


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Having the public record public (and easily searchable) is important.

Thanks Mary

(and thanks to Mr. Palmer for making his column availabe).

RossK

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I couldn't agree more. In fact, I wonder if it's actually legal to alter or destroy the written work of another person. I don't think so.

What double-irks me is the thought that such tasks could be assigned to the Public Affairs Bureau whose salaries are paid by the taxpayers.

Yes, I agree, it was super-gallant of Mr Palmer to search up and then end me what we called "the missing column".

With CanWest at the tipping point itself, what's next ...

My thought for the Suggestion Box: Jimmy Pattison should buy Vancouver Sun and put Glen Clark into the Editor-in-Chief's chair.

By the way ... very glad to see you back, RossK.

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Anon 6:49,

Many thanks for picking up that comforting comment from 2003 by Paul Nettleton.

I know someone who tried very hard to contact Paul Nettleton recently. He had truly turned his back on BC politics which is a great pity.

He was practising law in the far north.

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BRAVO

BC Mary,
Yours is a superb example of investigative reporting
Much appreciated
 
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Thank you ... I'm going to bask a few minutes in the warmth your comment brings with it ...

Then I must say that there was very little truly "investigative" reporting ... which I would interpret as meaning Self holding Campbell, Collins, Christy, Judith Reid in a small room under bright lights until they answered all my questions about who decided to sell BC Rail, who worked out the terms of that sale, what nasty surprises await us on the 5th anniversary of signing that deal, why is it still secret, did B.C. actually get paid, and if so, when? how? where's the photo? That ... sigh ... never happened.

All I did was to search for what others had said, and what answers they received to their questions.

It's fascinating to go back and see how much pointed information is there -- unlike today's "news".

For example, I just found a hard-hitting column from 5 years ago written by a former Vancouver cop. Here's some of it:

http://www.primetimecrime.com/columns/Columns%202004/20040114.htm

Fraud plays a big part in political campaigns

By Leo Knight
Prime Time Crime & North Shore News - Jan. 14, 2004

Excerpt:

... We know that organized crime is involved and so too, are drugs and the poison they represent in our society. We also know that another family member is a suspended Victoria police officer.

My sources tell me the investigation which resulted in the suspension had, as its genesis, an internal probe by the Victoria Police Department into the possibility that information in major drug investigations was somehow getting leaked to the targets of the files.

And, on Monday, we learned that Mandeep Sandhu another relative and a federal Liberal riding executive member in Esquimalt - Juan de Fuca, was arrested as part of this probe.

All of this is tawdry, likely illegal (hence the police investigation) and undoubtedly politically scandalous. But I think what is really infuriating is the manner that politicians like Martin or the backroom boys like Bill Cunningham simply shrug off the membership irregularities as a boys will be boys thing.

Well it's not. It's criminal. Fraud and forgery done anywhere else except in political membership campaigns bring forth criminal charges.

Look at the shocking revelations that came out in the wake of Ujjal Dosanjh usurping the NDP leadership after he bladed Glen Clark. More than 1,000 instances of fraud and forgery were identified in membership sign-ups for his benefit and nothing was done. And, I should add, he [Dosanjh] was the attorney general at the time, the province's chief law enforcement officer. Yet, barely a tongue was clucked ...

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Just for the sake of absolute accuracy, Paul Nettleton was not re-elected as an independent MLA. He originally won in 1996 and sat as a Liberal in opposition. He was a backbencher after the Liberal rout in 2001 and was expelled from cabinet after claiming the Liberals were about to privatize BC Hydro. He ran in 2005 as an independent against Shirley Bond and finished a distant third.
None of this, of course, detracts from an otherwise thoughtful post.
 
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Thank you, Anon 5:17, that information certainly adds to our understanding of those turbulent times.

It adds to an appreciation of Paul Nettleton's integrity, too. Seems a great pity that he has left the B.C. Legislature.

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