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HomeNewsBC Hydro blew $290K on substations campaign before ceding defeat

BC Hydro blew $290K on substations campaign before ceding defeat

Bob Mackin

Remember BC Hydro’s Jan. 20-announced proposal to build new electric substations under a park and a school on the downtown peninsula? 

It was branded “seed” (with a lower-case s) and it got kiboshed less than two months later. 

BC Hydro’s costly seed campaign included CEO McDonald walking her dog in a park.

The Crown corporation wanted to build substations under Emery Barnes Park (by 2025) and Nelson School (by 2041). It used the underground substation at Cathedral Square as the model for the proposal. BC Hydro maintained that it would have been cheaper to dig under civic  land, build and cover than buying expensive land from a private owner and building a substation on top. BC Hydro set a March 31 deadline, but eventually cancelled it on March 9.  

CEO Jessica McDonald blamed city hall for foot-dragging and greed. City council pointed the finger at BC Hydro, saying it needed until early August to make a decision because of limited public consultation and a lack of information about financial and environmental impacts. Neither side had agreed on how much the land was worth. 

By the time McDonald pulled the plug on March 9 (two months before provincial election day), the power monopoly had spent nearly $290,000 on communications and public relations. Nearly all of the money was spent with a longtime, BC Liberal-connected firm that has a family connection to BC Hydro’s chairman.

Kirk & Co. billed $156,522.50 for its services plus $121,510.12 in expenses, according to a June 8 response to theBreaker from the BC Hydro freedom of information office. Kent Kallberg Studios billed $10,000 for photography.

BC Hydro claimed in an April 19 letter that it needed to consult a third-party, so it delayed the original April 21 disclosure deadline to June 7. April 21, coincidentally, was during the second week of the election campaign. BC Hydro finally responded on June 8 with a letter dated June 6. 

Kirk & Co. is headed by Judy Kirk, who was chief of staff and caucus executive director from 1994 to 1996 when the Gordon Campbell-led BC Liberals were the opposition party. Kirk’s firm was where McDonald’s ex-husband, Liberal campaign director Mike McDonald, hung his hat until early June when he returned to the premier’s office as Christy Clark’s chief of staff. Clark’s ex-press secretary, Sam Oliphant, joined Kirk in early 2016.

Kirk & Co. manager of client services, Carmen Bennett, is the daughter of BC Hydro chair Brad Bennett. 

During seven fiscal years through March 31, 2016, Kirk billed Hydro ratepayers $6,667,637, according to the Crown corporation’s annual list of supplier payments. Among the Kirk projects was communications, consultation and community relations on the controversial, $9 billion Site C dam project. 

“Kirk & Co. coordinated and facilitated 139 stakeholder meetings and 29 open houses from December 2007 to December 2012,” the company’s website says. “Kirk & Co. continues to assist in the management of community relations and maintains a public-enquiry line and project email address.”

During the same seven-year period, public accounts show that Kirk billed taxpayers $8,710,960 through the central government. 

Add it up and British Columbians have paid Kirk $15,368,597 during the seven-year period.

Kirk billed $10,877,755 of that since Clark became premier just before the end of the 2010-2011 fiscal year. And there is more to come. The 2016-2017 public accounts are expected in July and BC Hydro’s financial information act return for the same period is expected in September. 

Judy Kirk is attached to $22,036 in donations to the Liberals, according to the Elections BC database.

2017-194_Final Response (Sent 08 June 2017) by BobMackin on Scribd