Is B.C. Hydro going private?

April 07, 2005, vol. 32, no. 7
By Stuart Colcleugh

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B.C. voters have a number of important issues to consider when they go to the polls May 17. But Marjorie Griffin Cohen says the current Liberal government's “break-up and incremental privatization of B.C. Hydro” should be right at the top of their list.

“It should be a huge election issue,” says Cohen, an SFU economist and professor of political science and chair of women's studies, and a former NDP government appointee to B.C. Hydro's board of directors.

“Most people in B.C., regardless of their political party, support electricity in the public sector. The only people who don't are the private electricity producers and their government supporters because they see an enormous cash cow. They feel that electricity has been undervalued and that they can make a lot of money if it goes to the private sector.”

Cohen summarizes the threats to Canada's public energy resources as a result of globalization and restructuring in a chapter of the new book Governing Under Stress: Middle Powers and the Challenge of Globalization, which she co-edited with University of Toronto professor Stephen Clarkson.

In her essay International Forces Driving Electricity Deregulation in the Semi-Periphery: The Case of Canada, Cohen argues that B.C.'s entire electricity system is being completely redesigned and all new power is being privatized to meet U.S. and private producers' interests, not the collective interests of British Columbians.

The book is one of the first to be produced by the Globalism Project, an international research group of academics and activists that is “challenging neo-liberal globalism and offering viable and just alternatives.”

“It comes as a result of a large five-year study we've been doing on the effects of globalization on countries that are situated in the middle ranks of power in the world, particularly Canada, Norway, Mexico and Australia,” explains Cohen.

“We were looking generally at two things: how these countries confront the loss of control over their own future and then how they resist this, or how are they co-opted into the whole process? That is, how much can these countries continue to meet the needs of people within their jurisdiction?”

The Liberal government has pledged that B.C. Hydro's core assets - its power generation, transmission and distribution facilities - will remain in public hands. At the same time, it says changes including the outsourcing of office services to offshore multinational Accenture and the spinoff of transmission facilities into a separate entity will improve efficiency and help secure a reliable supply of low-cost power for the future.

But Cohen counters, “They've privatized other things too. They've privatized almost everything. Soon there's going to be nothing left of B.C. Hydro except the dams.”

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