Saturday, July 17, 2010


Common political strategies connecting BC Rail and BC Ferries

BC Mary comment: Cynical politicians (I almost said "evil politicians") have been known to create a crisis in order to change public perception. We saw George W Bush use 9/11 to bring in policing and security measures which wouldn't have been tolerated otherwise. We know that.

But less attention has been given to smaller models. British Columbia has its own model crises: the PacifiCats of the BC Ferries fleet was one such crisis. In broad daylight, words were published and broadcast to hack and defile our newest BC-built ships, to create distrust and uncertainty until the ships were almost impossible to give away. Who would ride on ferries denounced so ferociously by their previous owners? Who would buy other ships from that BC shipyard? ... thus destroying the Vancouver shipbuilding industry.
The PacifiCats were an NDP initiative, new and innovative But instead of the media explaining them to the public, the media talked of over-runs and crises. It became a crisis out of which the other desired change was easily managed -- the Campbell-Liberals seized power.

That PacifiCat crisis, in my view, never should have happened. British Columbians are way too smart not to smell the rat at the centre of that scheme.

The thing is, that wasn't all. With the Campbell-Liberals, the sell-off was only beginning. It seems to be the only thing he knew how to do: first BCRail (also given the mud-slinging treatment), then BC Hydro, then BC Ferries ...

What next? Here's what Norman says ....

Common political strategy connecting BC Rail and BC Ferries

By Norman Farrell
Northern Insights
Original article published July 9, 2010

Premier-in-waiting Gordon Campbell - and many voters - wanted an anchor chain hung around the NDP's collective neck in 2001. Campbell would have ensured that three tarnished aluminum ferry icons were made fast to the links. With delays, cost overruns and break-in difficulties, the high speed catamarans were political hot potatoes drawing negative attention to the NDP government.

Glen Clark's government intended the catamarans to serve needs of BC Ferry Services and stimulate the marine construction trade in BC. Instead, they became symbols of misdirected and incompetent public enterprise. Feeling the heat and already suffering at the polls, Clark's successor Ujjal Dosanjh removed the vessels from the fleet and offered them for sale. That played into the hands of a cynical political movement willing to burn hundreds of millions to snap shut the trap into which their opposition had stepped. Gordon Campbell and his handlers were people prepared to poison the community well for political advantage.

Indeed, the ferry construction project was a disaster owned largely by the NDP government of Glen Clark. Ujjal Dosanjh's cabinet offered the ships for sale, a decision based on expert advice. They expected to realize more benefit from a sale than the next favored option, which involved modifications to reduce speed and improve fuel efficiency so the ships could be assigned to Langdale runs and supplemental service on the Nanaimo route. Consultants predicted that a sale would take two years.

However, the new Liberal government didn't want to sell the vessels on the international market or to modify them and put them into service. This was one disaster from which they didn't want citizens making a recovery. Leaving the ships idly displayed on the Vancouver waterfront as sharp reminders served a political purpose worth more than any alternatives. For that, Liberals needed cooperation of the Washington Marine Group who controlled berthing facilities in North Vancouver, a place with great visibility, especially compared to BC Ferries' own Deas Docks in Richmond.

Instead of allowing the sale process to run the recommended course, the Liberals sold the aluminum catamarans to Washington Marine, completing the sale little more than a year after the Wright report that counseled patience. WMG, owned by Montana based multi-billionaire Dennis Washington, paid under $20 million, less than the ships' scrap value. Naturally, the Washington family are large contributors to the BC Liberals. WMG sold the ships to the giant Abu Dhabi Mar Group for service in the Persian Gulf between the United Arab Emirates and Quatar.

Had he been advising Premier Clark, Sir Humphrey Appleby would have said the original fast ferry plan was courageous. Every ex post facto expert review concluded that while its execution was inept, the initial program itself was ill conceived. This is from the report by Fred R. Wright, FCA:

“Construction of the fast ferries started before the scope, schedule and budget for the ships was firmly established. Indeed, these critical elements of ship construction were not managed in a disciplined way throughout the project. It seems self evident, at least in hindsight, that first-rate project management techniques that mitigate risk are essential on any project of this magnitude.

“Additionally, the principles of project management are most needed, and most valuable, at the  genesis of a project. A clear recognition of how scope, budget and schedule interrelate, together with appropriately precise estimates of these three elements, are essential to sorting out potentially successful projects from superficially attractive ideas that have little potential for practical success.

“Proven project management practices [should] be used on all significant capital projects.”

Perhaps readers are wondering where we are going with this old story. I think it is important because it demonstrates how little politicians remember from days in the wilderness, once they enter plush lounges of power and sit in swivel chairs behind the desks.

Reprinted by kind permission of the author, Norman Farrell,  Northern Insights,


BC Mary comment: A long time ago, I wrote a story about the launching of catamaran ferries for the BC Ferries fleet and how the program came under hostile political control. That story is HERE.

The link for Fast Ferries, Fine Ferries is dead. So here's the text in full:

Fast Ferries Fine Ferries 
by BC Mary

Act 1, Scene 1, 1982, San Francisco. A conference paper is presented by Paul Hercus outlining the virtues of high-speed catamaran ferries. He described them as:

* simple to build

* requiring standard diesel engine technology

* simple propellers

* affordable to own, operate, and travel on.

North America became the testing ground for high speed ferry, commuter, and tourist transport. Such backwaters (I'm thinking like a CanWest editor now) as Boston, New York, Florida, Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Washington State had tried hydrofoils, hovercrafts, the Boeing Jetfoil, the Surface Effect Craft and "Exotically-powered Monohulls" all of which were complex, experimental, unsatisfactory, and expensive, given the results achieved. But (returning to sanity) that's what happens when embarking on a new technology: innovation -> prototypes -> testing -> start over.

Act 1, Scene 2. The first Catamaran was delivered to Washington State in 1984 and operated between Long Beach and Catalina during the Olympics, with faster crossings and good response from the public. This vessel then went to Alaska for successful tourist service in Prince William Sound. Another catamaran operated in Puget Sound for many years between Seattle and Alderbrook Resort before being sold for operation between Oakland, Alameda and San Francisco. Another catamaran was then purchased for sightseeing around San Francisco Bay. So Act 1 has established that the high-speed catamaran was not only accepted world-wide but had become a craze because of its simplified technology. Customers were lining up for shipyards capable of building them. British Columbia was ideally situated.

Act 2: Fjellstrand, one of the first new overseas designs to sell, inaugurated Clipper Navigation's service between Seattle and Victoria. At this point in the report, "Fifteen years of Fast Ferries in North America," it shows the basis for B.C.'s decision to enter this proven industry and it was good. Other catamarans had begun service in Hawaii, the Caribbean, Puerto Rico, as troop transport in the Marshall Islands, on the Great Lakes, and one fast ferry which docked at the foot of Wall Street in New York. The king's decision seemed wise as well as good. [Applause, applause.]

There was a set-back, however, before B.C. Ferries entered the scene. 1987 brought a Wall Street crash which was felt world-wide. As interest rates rose, businesses stopped investing in new projects. This didn't affect the Fast Ferry industry until 1990 when aluminum prices began to rise, and wash problems were being documented in Rich Passage, between Seattle and Bremerton. Mono-hulls produced even greater wash. But Washington State Ferries kept testing and found that their two Fast Cats with longer, more slender hulls produced much less wash. However, that process of testing took several years, so orders were held up for that reason. These setbacks are inevitable in a new technology but the outlines of a coming Shakespearean tragedy are forming.

Act 3. 1994 A new boom in Fast Ferries begins and U.S.A. is looking for new vessels. British Columbia's N.D.P. government takes the giant step forward and calls for "Expressions of interest" from marine designers around the world. B.C.'s expressed aim is written in: "To put together the best possible team to design and construct a car- and passenger-carrying ferry system which would bring the greatest economical benefit not only to B.C. Ferries but to B.C. as a whole." BC. ferries received 22 proposals, 14 of which were for catamarans. They chose the one best suited and granted the design contract to International Catamaran (Incat) of Sydney, Australia and to Canadian naval architects Robert Allan Ltd., in December 1994. British Columbia was nicely placed for a booming market ... which, by 1998, would see a virtual explosion of Fast Cat building.

Act 4, Scene 1. Vancouver, B.C. PacifiCats, as they were now called, were being watched closely, for two particular reasons (as well as a secretive 3rd reason).

* B.C. wanted to train its own skilled workforce,

* B.C. wanted to build its own aluminum facility.

Although very few citizens could have been expected to understand, at the time, how this tragedy would unfold, there were also:

* powerful people in British Columbia who wanted the Fast Cat project to fail. Our first clue (would Shakespeare have written a song to ridicule such a low ambition?) was the name the enemies chose. These beautiful B.C.-built ships were to become known, the rascals hoped, as the Fast Ferry Fiasco.

Act 4, Scene 2. "All expectations were met" when the first PacifiCat Explorer was launched in 1998. By the time PacifiCat Discovery was launched in 1999, and PacifiCat Voyager in 2000, the cost for all 3 ships had gone from the expected $250 million to $450 million and the media went mad. "Extreme public scrutiny" dogged every move. But others pointed out (to no avail) that the simple cost of having trained those workers in regular classrooms would have equaled this price. Somehow the media didn't want to know. "... the revitalized [B.C.] shipbuilding industry should feel particularly proud of their achievements," concluded the 15-page report by Ben Hercus. "The future of Fast Ferries in North America could, at last, be considered safe and secure" as, by 1998, no less than 27% of the world's 59 Fast Cats had been built in North America. And B.C. shipyards were now ready to build more.

If this really had been a Shakespeare play, the stage now would darken as the king collapses on the floor with a dagger in his back; in the background, there would be a shipyard in flames. The villain, in a smooth business suit, swaggers to take over the throne as the curtain slowly comes down.

The end.

Many British Columbians simply couldn't believe that anyone would be so evil as to deliberately set out on a campaign of falsehoods to wipe out the government they had voted into power. Nobody could imagine British Columbian leaders actually destroying a proud B.C. industry. But the Oligarchy felt they had to create the tragedy so that they -- and they alone -- could "save" us. It was the price we paid for them to take over the government.

The truth only began to dawn when the PacifiCats were put up for sale. The Oligarchy didn't want the ships to be sold, either. They wanted no redeeming feature to remain. The barrage of insults intensified. Who would buy a used car if everybody in town screamed that it was a "fiasco"? Who could risk using the fast cats as public ferries or for tourist cruises if they had been denounced as terrible ships? Even as scrap metal, the 3 ships were worth $60 million. But in the end, with no other buyers daring to show up, the 3 beautiful PacifiCats sold to the Washington Marine Group for $17 million. It was beyond a pity.

But Fate would give one more proof to British Columbia, perhaps hoping we'd wake up to the danger. Or perhaps the Oligarchy simply stopped being subtle. When new ships were needed for the B.C. Ferries fleet, our own "revitalized shipbuilding industry" -- which had built the beautiful big B.C. Ferries "Spirit" ships -- did not get the contracts. Nor were B.C. shipyards invited to tender a bid. The Gordon Campbell government gave the contracts to a German shipyard which ... incidentally ... wasn't capable of building our new ships. Only by making their employees take a cut in wages they were able to re-fit their shipyard. Will Shakespeare would have discarded an ending as hopeless as that. Because no population deserves to wake up to that kind of treachery.

If I could re-write the play, I'd start back in 1985 by taking a flying leap at the then-leader of the Opposition, Gordon Campbell, and tell him to call off his dogs. After reading the history of the PacifiCats, I think that's all it would take, to have opened a successful new chapter in the B.C. shipbuilding industry. I don't see how any new project, or any new industry, could possibly function properly if it's hit every day by a relentless barrage of insults and inuendo. I don't see how any buyers could feel comfortable buying something which the hometown elite had insisted, over and over, was a "fiasco". If only Gordon Campbell's group had co-operated, there would have been a very happy ending in B.C. And I wouldn't be thinking that the West Coast media's performance was almost criminal.

I don't think the Fast Ferries project was terribly awful ... or at all bad. In fact, I think it just barely, tragically, missed being spectacularly good.

Footnote for today: Rafe Mair says: "... Thanks to the Basi-Virk trial, the offloading of BC Rail to CN will still be an issue in 2013 -- so will the fact that he (Campbell) had sworn in two elections that he wouldn't do it."

Read more here.



"Who put this deal together? Anybody who knows shipping knows that not much happens without money changing hands somewhere along the line. I'd really like to know who took a look at those three fast ferries and knew what they had in them, and then looked at that yard in the Gulf, and then at that luxury super-yacht world, and then connected those dots. And I'd like to know how much they pocketed for doing that."

By Chris Montgomery Mon, Jul 27 2009
Did Ya hear about OPP, Have You heard this before?

Government sources stressed that the probe is confined to employees in the public sector and that no MPPs or their political staff are swept up in it.

The story

Staff at the Ontario Ministry of Energy and Infrastructure are under criminal investigation as part of a probe involving government employees' financial dealings with private-sector firms.

Government sources confirmed on Saturday that employees in the sprawling Energy Ministry are under investigation by the Ontario Provincial Police. The probe includes other ministries, though it is unclear which ones.

Craig Sumi, a spokesman for the Ministry of Government Services, would say only that “a few” ministries are part of the investigation.

OPP officers equipped with search warrants raided government offices in the Macdonald Block, near the provincial legislature, on Thursday.

The Macdonald Block is a large complex that houses 13 different ministries, including the offices of senior bureaucrats and cabinet ministers.
---------And We thought only in B.C.
Chris Montgomery,

Many thanks for your contribution. I'm not sure it helps much at this time .... the rules of the game seem to require each of us to stake out a corner and battle all comers ... I hate that.

I just want to know what happened ... as with BC Rail. We can't keep running priceless public assets into reefs or off the rails without getting a bit curious as to why.

I'll start looking for your follow-on column.

Thanks again.
I tried the ferry link and couldn't find anything. Any one else had luck at all ???



The link stayed dormant when I tried it, too,

so I copied the article and pasted it into TLR.

I should have tested it myself, so thanks for letting me know.
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