The saint and the switch hitter

Next month, Victoria-Hillside MLA Rob Fleming will be hosting his first annual golf tournament and dinner. Tickets to the turf and T-bone event are $150, with "great prizes and auction items available!" But that's not the only attraction. Special guests will include former interim provincial New Democrat leader Joy MacPhail and...wait for it...ex-premier Dan Miller. Ms. MacPhail and Mr. Miller get along just fine. But some insiders think that's a bit of a peculiar pairing. After all, Ms. MacPhail has almost been canonized by party members and Mr. Miller is now co-chair Campbell administration's Competition Council, as well as being a senior counsel with National Public Relations Inc. - whose Vancouver office is headed by senior provincial Liberal election campaigner Marcia Smith.

5 Comments

Miller was a solid NDP MLA for 15 years and member of the executive council for 10. Now that he's no longer in politics, I'm not sure why his trying to make a living and/or play a constructive role in BC's future in a way that is consistent with what he believes would be held against him.

The Case of Dan Miller is an interesting one. In days gone by he was an official NDP economic illiterate, ridiculed by the pundits and the business lobbyists as a former pulp mill worker in over his depth. The cost overuns on the Pacificat project plus the hundreds of millions spent trying to upgrade the Skeena Cellulose mill were offered as proof of Miller's backwardness, his traditional socialist economic ignorance, and political rigidity.

But wait. Times change, and people grow. Now that Miller has endorsed Federal Liberal Dave Haggard for Parliament (not that it did any good) and has agreed to work for Campbell's provincial Liberals on their fake productivity council, which recently produced a report on forest industry productivity that contained no measurements or estimates on productivity whatsoever, now Miller is an economic realist and a political pragmatist.

Why, Miller's gotten himself an education in economics without taking a single college course! Can you do that? At the rate he's going, Miller will soon be joining Bob Plecas in setting up the ultimate BC government relations (read: insider access) company.

" The cost overuns on the Pacificat project plus the hundreds of millions spent trying to upgrade the Skeena Cellulose mill were offered as proof of Miller's backwardness, his traditional socialist economic ignorance, and political rigidity."

The Pacificats were not Miller's project, it was Glen Clark's. Since the project had to be approved by Cabinet, all of them including Joy McPhail and Jenny Kwan, plus Farnworth and others share the blame equally for that disaster.

A textbook example of the NDP not seeing the big picture and because of that we're still paying for the tin cans and have to put up with the condition of the current ferries because of 10 years of neglect by the NDP.

As for Skeena Cellulose, another textbook example of the NDP not knowning basic market economics. The mill was costly to run and there was a much reduced market for wood pulp. Costly operations together with low market demand usually means closing of the facility since profits can't be made.

Guess they didn't learn much from errors of their work on Ocean Falls when they were in office 1972-1975.

As you know, Mr Stanford, your recounting of these two episodes is highly selective.

The Pacificat project went over budget primarily because the initial budget was unduly optimistic, something that has happened many times before, including with all of WAC Bennett's major hydro dams. Another reason it went over budget was that the federal government refused to participate in the training costs for aluminum welders. Those aluminum welders are now working for all kinds of small boat builders in the Lower Mainland, the Island, even around Rupert, building small sports fishing and work boats. Those small businesses are all benefitting from the training costs that BC Ferries incurred.

The Pacificats are not useless, as you well know. They were ruled out of service on political grounds, partly because wealthy residents of Bowen Island didn't like the large wakes running up on their shores if the boats left Horseshoe Bay at normal design speeds, and partly because the trucking lobby didn't like the idea of ferries they couldn't use.

Kyle Washington, BC's most energetic business leader, is going to find a good use for these vessels, and it wouldn't surprise me to see them used to supplement the BC Ferry fleet, especially as 2010 approaches.

The monies spent at Skeena Cellulose are another matter altogether. Prof Peter Pearse indicated in a lecture I attended that he was intially optimistic that something constructive could be done, but that the management and the union weren't being realistic and as time went on the possibilities for a viable operation dwindled. The main problem was that debts racked up by the previous owner at operations around the world were arbitrarily assigned to the Prince Rupert operations, and staying current on those debts sapped away needed capital in a manner wholly unrelated to the Prince Rupert operation's fundamental economics.

Miller was the Minister in charge of both projects. In particular, he was the Minister who didn't realize that he was being fed unduly optimistic reports on the costs of the Pacificat project till the very last minute. So it's hard to understand how he is now celebrated by the business press as an economic realist given that they themselves ridiculed him in the past as a total nincompoop.

I notice you continue to repeat the line that the Pacificats were somehow entirely Glen Clark's responsibility. I wonder how you come to that conclusion, given that Mike Harcourt was the Premier when the project began.

"The Pacificat project went over budget primarily because the initial budget was unduly optimistic, something that has happened many times before"

Not to this extent and not with an outcome such
as what happened with the Fastcats.


"Another reason it went over budget was that the federal government refused to participate in the training costs for aluminum welders. Those aluminum welders are now working for all kinds of small boat builders in the Lower Mainland, the Island, even around Rupert, building small sports fishing and work boats."

It is a much more complex line of events that
caused overuns on the project. The other aspect
is that aluminium ferries simply are not the best
design for BC waters. There were also construction delays.

"The Pacificats are not useless, as you well know. They were ruled out of service on political grounds, partly because wealthy residents of Bowen Island didn't like the large wakes running up on their shores if the boats left Horseshoe Bay at normal design speeds, and partly because the trucking lobby didn't like the idea of ferries they couldn't use."

Normal service speeds on those Fastcats also meant high fuel consumption and the ferries could not take more than one bus and no trucks.

The engines were run at 80% of rated capacity, not a good thing on diesel engines.

The program was also riddled with management problems. One of those is that CFI was supposed to sell the designs to other ferry companies something that wasn't done. In fact one of the leading sales persons went to an all expense paid trip to a ferry related convention and she forgot to bring her sales materials.


"Kyle Washington, BC's most energetic business leader, is going to find a good use for these vessels, and it wouldn't surprise me to see them used to supplement the BC Ferry fleet, especially as 2010 approaches."

Any use that Washington Marine gets out of them will mean money since WM bought the ferries at less than value.


"Miller was the Minister in charge of both projects. In particular, he was the Minister who didn't realize that he was being fed unduly optimistic reports on the costs of the Pacificat project till the very last minute. "

He also didn't bother to check.

"I notice you continue to repeat the line that the Pacificats were somehow entirely Glen Clark's responsibility. I wonder how you come to that conclusion, given that Mike Harcourt was the Premier when the project began."

Quite simple. The Ten Year BC Ferries plan was
started in 1994 under the Harcourt government. It called for improvements to major termini, three Century class ferries, and development of
the Fast Ferry programme.

Exit Mike Harcourt in February 1996. Enter Glen Clark. Glen Clark announced that Catamaran Ferries International (a government crown corporation) was set to build the ferries.
First ferry was started in April, 1996. First
ferry completed in June, 1998.

It has been showed repeatedly that Glen Clark was
the major person behind the ferries, but the NDP
cabinet and the caucus all need to share blame for the fisaco.

Too bad the NDP didn't see the big picture and
went for steel hulled ferries (and provided for
additional work opportunities and growth for
steel and marine workers).


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