Tuesday, November 03, 2009


An eerie similarity between the process by which BC Rail was sold off and privatized back in 2004 and the recently proposed “leasing” of BC’s forests

Part 3 - Critique of Business Council of BC discussion paper
By Peter Ewart

OPINION 250 - November 03, 2009

Part 3
By Peter Ewart

This article is the final one in the series.
(Click here for “Part 1” and “Part 2”)

BC’s rich forests, rivers, energy and mineral resources, and publicly-owned utilities have long been coveted by investors both native and foreign, and, over the last century, they have used various mechanisms and methods to gain control over them.

More recently, “non-traditional” investors, such as hedge funds, private equity firms, and so on, have been moving into the forest industry, and are now playing the dominant role in a number of big companies.

These investors have been aided by pliable politicians, government officials and analysts who believe, as put forward in the Business Council of BC’s “discussion paper”, that the interests of big business and its financiers should come first before any other, and that “deregulation,” and the sell-off and “privatization” of public resources, services and institutions should be actively pursued. Not a few political careers have been advanced on precisely these foundations.

In that regard, there is an eerie similarity between the process by which BC Rail was sold off and privatized back in 2004 and the recently proposed “leasing” of BC’s forests as is being put forward in the Council’s “discussion paper”.

For example, financiers in the US, Canada and other countries had their eyes on BC Rail for a number of years before they were given the opportunity to scoop it up in 2003 and 2004 by the BC government. And the same can be said of BC forests where successive governments over the last several decades have brought in measures that have allowed the big forest monopolies and their financier backers to increase their grip over the forest resource.

But there has always been a problem. Large sections of the people of the province have not and do not agree. Despite this opposition and despite major setbacks, the politicians and the financiers have stubbornly persisted. For example, back in the 1990s, Gordon Campbell who was then the leader of the opposition in the BC Legislature, promised to sell BC Rail if elected. He lost the election as a result.

Once in power though, lo and behold, the Liberal government proceeded to do just what it had promised not to – sell BC Rail.

Likewise, in 2004, the same government brought in its “working forest” proposal, which would have handed more power over the forests to the big companies. Because of strong opposition, however, the government had to withdraw its proposal. Yet today, in the “discussion paper”, which the present Minister of Forests, has recently said “aligns nicely” with the government’s idea of a “commercial forest reserve”, we see indications that the government is planning to bring in measures that will amount to much of the same thing - de facto privatization of BC forests.

To overcome opposition in the province to the sell-off of public institutions and resources, the government uses various tactics to “soften up” public opinion.

For example, in the cases of both BC Rail and crown-owned timber resources, the provincial government raises the bugbear that a problem exists in the “managing” of the railway and the forests. Of course, it is the government itself that does everything possible to undermine this “management”, but that fact is never admitted.

To rectify the “problem”, the government proposes to bring a new type of “management arrangement.” In the case of BC Rail, the American monopoly CN Rail takes over “management”. In the case of BC’s forests, it is the big forest companies and / or the Wall Street funded “Timber Investment Management Organizations” (TIMOs)

While doing so, the provincial government swears on a stack of bibles that it is not “selling” these public assets – it is simply “leasing” them. For BC Rail, this means that the rail bed will be leased to CN Rail for 990 years. For the forests of BC, the lease will be 90 years (at least for a start), by which time, of course, every adult person living today will have long passed away.

The government uses other tactics as well to “soften up” opposition. The ancients had a saying that “the easiest way to conquer a castle is from within.” Now, it is a fact that opposition to the sale of BC Rail has always been strongest in the Interior of the province where the railway plays a vital role. Back in 2003-2004, if the Interior had stood united, it is unlikely that the deal would have gone ahead.

Given that situation, who better than a select group of Interior mayors to call for “something” to be done about the “managing” of BC Rail? And that is exactly what happened. The government was then able to say that, in its BC Rail “deal”, it was only “responding” to demands from the “leaders” of Interior communities. Neat trick.

Undermining the BC government forest service’s management of the forests from within is another example. Who better to call for “privatization” of the forests to be considered than, of all people, a top official from the forest service itself? And that, also, is exactly what happened last year. Another neat trick.

In addition, the government wants to bring in even more generous “compensation” arrangements for the forest companies, which will mean, by putting little or nothing forward, these companies will be richly compensated if the government wants to reclaim the forests for the public domain in the years and decades ahead. Thus the government not only curses our generation with these “leases” – which for all intents and purposes are sales – it also saddles future generations with them.

The upshot is that we will end up with de facto privatized forests, just as we ended up with a de facto privatized railway.

Is this to be our generation’s gift to posterity? One thing for sure – it will be our gift to the financiers in New York, London and Tokyo who will use the ownership and control of BC’s forest resources to increase their monopolization of the industry and as a pawn in the world financial markets for their speculative schemes and ventures.

Are there alternatives to this rampant privatization of the public wealth of the province? That important issue will be further discussed in upcoming articles and series of articles.

Peter Ewart is a writer and columnist based in Prince George, BC. He can be reached at: peter.ewart@shaw.ca

Sincere thanks to Peter Ewart; also to Ben Meisner in Prince George at Opinion 250 for permission to reprint. I look forward to those "upcoming articles" you mention here.

- BC Mary


OK...now I feel a tad ill, to say nothing of furious. Time for bed, hopefully the news is better when I wake up.

(How can one human being put in a place of TRUSTED authority, wreak so much havoc on those who put him there...and those who didn't? Evil.)
And I'd say a defacto BC Hydro. The beginning of the end I'd say.

Bob Elton is stepping down as President and C-E-O of BC Hydro.

The company says after six years on the job, Elton will be "transitioning" to a new role as special advisor to the BC Hydro board.

He will also serve as executive chair of Powertech, a hydro subsidiary that specializes in clean energy consulting.

The board is now launching a search process for a new C-E-O.

It's bloody awful, isn't it?

Anybody know what we can do?
Post a Comment

Links to this post:

Create a Link

<< Home