Smart meters were expected to a big deal at the UBCM meeting in Vancouver.
The surprise was Solicitor General Shirley Bond’s bombshell revelation that the federal government had issued a take-it-or-leave-it final offer for new 20-year RCMP contract.
First, smart meters, and a controversy that suggests the government hasn’t learned anything from the HST debacle.
I’m not much worried about personal health risks from smart meters, which transmit data n power use in every home and business wirelessly.
For one thing, it would be hypocritical, since I happily enjoy WiFi, and undoubtedly fail to do all I could to ensure good health.
And I accept the experts who say that if there is a health risk, it's tiny beyond measure. I am sympathetic to people who are doing everything possible to avoid radiofrequency electronic magnetic fields but now are being forced to accept them.
But it is troubling that this is a politically driven, $900-million project with no public consultation or any independent assessment of the costs and benefits.
In fact, the government passed legislation that prevented the B.C. Utilities Commission from assessing the smart meter project and determining if it was in the best interest of B.C. Hydro customers. If it was a sound, cost-effective initiative, then utilities commission review would have been in the government's best interest.
And the government’s claim that the meters won’t ultimately lead to time-of-use billing — that power in peak periods won't cost more than electricity in low-demand times - is unconvincing. B.C. Hydro continues to raise that possibility, and it’s the best cost-justification for the project. Only Energy Minister Rich Coleman claims it won’t happen.
Time-of-use billing, done right, is actually a perfectly sound idea; encouraging off-peak use reduces the need for additional generating capacity and saves everyone money.
What's been most striking about the smart meter debate is how little the Liberal government learned from the HST failure.
Coleman told the Union of B.C. Municipalities convention that he didn't care how many people were concerned and didn't want the meters. The government is going ahead, with no exceptions - no chance to opt out, or options for a wired alternative to the meters. No review by the utilities commission.
The message - as it was with the HST - is that people are just too stupid to know what's good for them. The cabinet knows best.
The government’s assumption seemed to be that the opposition was a small group of kooks.
But UBCM delegates from across the province voted 55 per cent in favour of a moratorium on installation of smart meters as the convention concluded. That’s a large group of elected officials for Christy Clark and company to dismiss as too dim to know what’s good for them.
Especially when that same attitude got the government in so much trouble over the HST.
The RCMP dispute rates another column, but UBCM delegates were unanimous on this issue.
Earlier in the week, Bond said the federal government had broken off negotiations on a new 20-year policing contract. The province had to accept the last offer by Nov. 30, or the RCMP would begin pulling out in 2014.
It’s a bluff. The RCMP is building a $1-billion headquarters in Surrey (original cost estimate, $300 million). And pulling out of B.C. would leave it with 6,000 surplus employees. That’s a heck of a severance bill.
Bond tried to counter the ploy, saying the province would look at a provincial police force if it couldn’t get needed accountability on costs and service levels in a new deal.
That’s the right position. And in fact, it might be time to move away from the problem-plagued RCMP.
But municipalities are worried about losing the federal subsidy — 10 per cent for larger centres, 30 per cent for smaller — that helps cover RCMP costs.
They voted unanimously to urge the parties back to the bargaining table.
Footnote: One problem in RCMP talks has been the turnover in the solicitor general’s job. Bond is the sixth minister to hold the post in the four years since negotiations began. Some, like Coleman, were keen on retaining the RCMP; others, like Kash Heed, wanted to look at change. The lack of consistency has meant B.C. is ill-prepared for the current deadlock.