Press Pass: NDP's eyes on the meter over consultant's pay

ON THE METER — The U.S. expert brought in to advise B.C. Hydro on its smart meters clocked in at $265 an hour, which even Energy Minister Bill Bennett said is enough to raise some eyebrows.

Gary Murphy, a physicist who has advised other utilities on such conversions, was paid very well, said Bennett, “far beyond the likes of which mere politicians would ever expect to be remunerated.”

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Murphy was on contract for more than two years up to last September.

Bennett said his salary was capped at 40 hours a week and the contract maximum was $1.47 million. The final payout was a shade less.

NDP Leader John Horgan asked him why they had to import a U.S. citizen for a project that didn’t need review by the utilities commission and for which there was never any meaningful consultation.

Bennett replied: “Nobody here actually had the skill set to do it.”

Murphy’s contract included 26 round trips a year to his home and $10,000 a week in expenses. Bennett said the smart meter project is running about $100 million below budget and it’s “highly unlikely” that would be the case if they hadn’t brought the expert in.

Horgan responded: “We hired this guy — $1.4 million — because there was no one else around that could figure it out? That seems strange to me.”


COMPUTER GREMLIN — Technology Minister Andrew Wilkinson seems awfully sure of himself for a man with a glitchy computer.

A few days ago, he got caught assuring reporters that the integrated case management system was running fine only to have it crash an hour later.

Undeterred, Wilkinson was back in the legislature this week making light of what he called a “minor” issue.

“Of course, as information systems roll out to replace the creaky, rusty legacy systems we inherited from the NDP, as we replace those tape drives, as we discard the punch cards — crates and crates of them — we are proud to say that our information systems evolve and are upgraded just like any other I.T.,” he said.

Of the NDP, he said. “They can’t have it both ways, Madame Speaker, unless they want to park their AMC Gremlin out front and reboot the old COBOL-based system.”


IN MY DAY — The B.C. Liberals sometimes sound like the ancient uncle you try to avoid at family dinners.

In deflecting questions, they often take out their teeth — figuratively speaking — and talk about how bad things were under the NDP in the 1990s. Back then, apparently, people fled the province in droves, and you had to walk to school and back home through thigh-high snow. Uphill both ways.

Jobs Minister Shirley Bond reached back to her favourite decade again last week to answer Horgan’s questions about the province’s 11.4 per cent youth unemployment rate. “I know he's uncomfortable about the 1990s, but it is part of his history,” she said.

“The youth unemployment rate hit a 25-year high of 20.1 per cent.”

To which Horgan replied: “I know that young people out of work today are just delighted to hear the minister talking about things that happened before they were born. I think the 41,000 unemployed young people in British Columbia today would prefer to have a government that focused on — I don’t know —TODAY.”


GROUNDHOG REPLAY — A few weeks back, Press Pass highlighted an erroneous movie reference by Advanced Education Minister Amrik Virk.

The NDP’s David Eby seized on that mistake this past week to poke fun at Virk’s role in unusual executive payments at Kwantlen University.

“The minister said our questions were outlandish,” Eby said. “He was wrong. There are now two investigations underway.

“The minister said the unreported payments were due to pre-employment contracts. He was wrong. We’ve tabled documents in this House that show they were part of the employment offer.

“The minister said he felt like Eddie Murphy in Groundhog Day.

“He was wrong. Bill Murray is the star of Groundhog Day.”


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