Public Eye – February 24

Budget secrets revealed — and terrible secrets emerge

  • Feb. 24, 2011 3:00 p.m.

“As we promised, given the times we are in, this can best be described as a status quo budget.” That’s what Finance Minister Colin Hansen told reporters last week upon the release of that document, which outlines the government’s spending for the coming fiscal year.

But the material accompanying that budget reveals dozen of embarrassing details the province would probably prefer the public not see. The following is a collection of some of them culled from the so-called service plans released by the government’s sundry agencies and Crown corporations.

British Columbia Securities Commission

 As politicians debate establishing a national securities regulator, recent polling suggests most British Columbians wouldn’t miss our homegrown version. A survey conducted between July 20-27, 2009 by Ipsos-Reid Corp. shows just 29 per cent are familiar with the British Columbia Securities Commission.

That poll was commissioned by the Canadian Securities Administrators investor education committee and referenced in the commission’s service plan. But the commission instead focused on another aspect of the survey: that 46 per cent of Canadian investors are aware of provincial securities regulators.

It has committed to keep that number above 45 per cent in future years.

An audit conducted by the commission suggests there is a declining lack of compliance with national standards meant to ensure the information mining companies are disclosing about mineral deposits is truthful and accurate. The commission reports a random audit of 40 British Columbia-based mining companies found just 61 per cent were compliant with those standards in fiscal 2009/10.

By comparison, that rate was 73 per cent in fiscal 2008/09 and 74 per cent in fiscal 2007/08. The standards were developed after the Bre-X Minerals Ltd. scandal in 1997.

The commission was unable to comment on the apparent decline by deadline.

British Columbia Lottery Corp.

The lottery corporation is forecasting a significant decline in public support for gambling as it continues to expand its controversial PlayNow.com online casino. According to its latest service plan, support was initially expected to increase two percentage points between fiscal 2009/10 to 2010/11 — from 61 per cent to 63 per cent. But the corporation is now predicting it will decrease to 55 per cent over the same period.

That prediction comes on the heels of PlayNow.com’s launch, which was marred by security breaches, as well as reports of questionable transactions at the province’s casinos.

BCLC will be spending $75 million to upgrade the computer system that monitors and links their slot machines and other electronic games. The corporation quietly announced it was looking for a contractor to do that work in November 2009. That procurement process is now complete, with the project being a “top corporate priority” and having the “highest level of focus.”

The lottery corporation states the cost of the upgrade “is expected to exceed $50 million.” But the province’s budget and fiscal plan is projecting the final price tag will actually be a whopping $25 million more — all in the service of ensuring the gambling industry can continue to take in big jackpots for the government.

Pacific Carbon Trust

The trust was set up in 2008, during Premier Gordon Campbell’s climate action craze, to sell British Columbia-based carbon offsets. Those offsets fund in-province projects that reduce greenhouse gas emissions, being purchased to compensate for an emission elsewhere. But a review of the trust’s service plans shows the Crown corporation’s offset sales targets have repeatedly been downgraded.

In 2009, the corporation budgeted that its offset revenue for fiscal 2009/10 would be $3.25 million. Then, in 2010, the income for that fiscal year was forecasted to be $1.52 million. The actual result: $913,000 — with $859,261 coming from the public sector clients and just $53,425 coming from private sector clients. In an email, a spokesperson for the trust said those targets were missed because reduced government travel meant a reduced need to buy carbon offsets. M

Sean Holman is editor of the online provincial political news journal Public Eye (publiceyeonline.com). He can be reached at editorial@publiceyeonline.com.

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