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Dermod Travis: Government spin plays loose with the facts

Ever sense that the B.C.

Ever sense that the B.C. government is trying to pull the wool over your eyes sometimes? Political spin that can politely be described as light in the accuracy department?

A good example is a recent letter to the editor in the East Kootenay News Online Weekly, by Energy and Mines Minister Bill Bennett.

Bennett wrote: “Each year Hydro-Quebec publishes a study that compares electricity rates … Last year’s study showed that the average [monthly] bill for a B.C. household using 1,000 kilowatt-hours of electricity was $143. In Halifax, a typical bill is $223 and in Ottawa the average is $207.”

Seems he mistook a “comparative index of prices” with dollars.

The actual monthly bill: Vancouver, $103; Halifax, $160, and Ottawa, $149.

Bennett went on to add: “Adjusting for inflation, electricity costs the same today in B.C. as it did back in 1976.”

Can’t speak to 1976 — he didn’t cite a source — but can for 2007, using those same Hydro-Québec studies.

In 2007, the bill for Vancouver was $67 for 1,000 kWh, $129 for 2,000 kWh and $192 for 3,000 kWh. Vancouver was the second most affordable of 11 Canadian cities for all three scenarios.

If rates had kept pace with inflation, they would have been $76, $147 and $218 in 2015. Instead, they were $103, $228 and $354.

Vancouver fell to third place for lowest bill (1,000 kWh) and plummeted to seventh place out of 12 cities in the 2,000- and 3,000-kWh scenarios.

Recently, in response to B.C. auditor general Carol Bellringer’s audit of compliance and enforcement of the mining sector, the government announced it was “accepting all recommendations with the exception of one.”

One they accepted was “[safeguarding] taxpayers by ensuring the reclamation liability estimate is accurate and that the security held by government is sufficient to cover potential costs.”

Seems accepting and implementing are not always the same thing.

Here’s what B.C. auditor general Wayne Strelioff wrote in 2002 on the subject: “For the sites identified as requiring bonding, we found the bonding amount held by the province is substantially less than the estimated remediation costs. This exposes the province to considerable financial risk.”

In 2000, the unfunded liability was $228 million.

The government of the day called Strelioff’s report “a useful guide,” promising to work with B.C.’s comptroller general on the issue.

Here’s what Bellringer had to say: “We recommend that government safeguard taxpayers by ensuring the reclamation liability estimate is accurate and that the security held is sufficient to cover potential costs.”

Bellringer estimated the unfunded liability at $1.2 billion.

This past New Year’s Eve — hours before MSP premiums were slated to rise by 4.2 per cent — the government boasted that “approximately 800,000 residents pay no MSP premiums at all.”

In an op-ed following the release of the provincial budget in February, Finance Minister Mike de Jong wrote: “These changes to MSP premiums mean that 45,000 people will no longer pay premiums at all … Once the changes have been implemented, nearly two million British Columbians will pay no premiums at all.”

Call it new math.

Minister for Natural Gas Development Rich Coleman returned from Japan last month where, according to the government’s statement, he tried “to help strengthen B.C.’s working relationship with LNG partners headquartered in Tokyo.”

The statement noted that Japan “is the world’s largest LNG importer and is looking for opportunities to diversify the country’s energy portfolio.”

May be a case of a day late and a dollar short.

Coleman should have taken Accenture Strategy Consulting’s March 2016 report — Gas Grows Up — with him to read on the plane.

Two lines that jump off the page: “Recent announcements by Japan’s Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry indicate that Japanese natural gas consumption could settle at 84 bcm by 2030. This is almost 32 per cent less than the LNG imported in 2014.”

Maybe it’s time for the government’s LNG spin to grow up, too.

And that “on time and on budget” — which no one buys any longer — should really be replaced with “behind schedule and over-budget.”

Dermod Travis is the executive director of IntegrityBC.

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