BC Politics with Hubert Beyer

Archives of British Columbia's most well read Political Columnist




Hubert Beyer, Biography

Hubert Beyer was widely known as one of Canada's most read journalists. His columns were published regularly in most BC Community Newspapers, and his perspective sought on the Federal level as well as by NORAD in the US, Beyer lived up to his reputation as the "Fairest of them All."

Born in a small village in West Germany, Beyer immigrated to Canada in his 20s where he married and had 4 children.

A German Language publication in Winnipeg was Beyer's first foray into writing in Canada, it was soon followed with work at the Winnipeg Free Press as a Reporter covering many different beats. more

Top Search: Forestry

Find out what Beyer had to say about Forestry in BC through the years. With the forestry industry supporting a large segment of employment and opportunity in British Columbia, it's no surprise that it's a top search.

Top Search: Elections

Election are always a hot topicAnytime the faintest hint of a provincial or federal election announcement draws near, the search for quotes and history on past British Columbia elections starts to climb.

Top Search: Budget Release

When is the Budget not a hot searchProvincial Bugets are introduced with fanfare and fraught with talk from pundits, experts and critics. Take a few minutes to see how BC Budgets of the past were often projections of the future. 


VICTORIA -- There's nothing the Vander Zalm government dreads more than the prospect of heavy snow and ice in the coming winter. The Socreds' very survival could depend on just what kind of winter wonderland British Columbia is going to be.

By the time the snow falls, the province's entire highways and bridge maintenance will have been privatized, and the government's derriere will be on the line.

A cold winter with lots of snow could do the Socreds in. If the new, private-sector guardians of our highways fail to deliver the service we've been accustomed to, British Columbians could be very miffed.

The program of privatizing the maintenance of highways and bridges is well under way. The first contract went to a group that calls itself the Victoria Highways Maintenance Corporation. It will look after the highways on southern Vancouver Island.

Principals of the group are John Chew, owner of an excavating Company, Allen Vandekerkhove, owner of the Payless Gas Company, Ray Cunliffe of Delcan Corporation, Art Kool of Aral Holdings and Roland Beaulieu, a former car dealer who sold his business to Jim Pattison.

For $29.9 million, these gentlemen have agreed to keep the highways and bridges of southern Vancouver Island free of ice and snow and in good driving condition for a year.

With all respect to the government's enthusiasm for privatizing and selling everything that isn't nailed down, that agreement falls short of the big savings the government has led us to believe will be achieved if the private sector looks after the highways.

According to the highways's ministry's own estimates, the cost of maintaining the highways and bridges of southern Vancouver Island would have been $31,9 million. True, a million bucks saved is nothing to spit at, but we haven't saved it yet.

Ever heard of cost-plus, the catch-all for unforeseen circumstances? You will. Maybe not with respect to the cost of maintaining highways in the warm climate of the south, but certainly up north, where the weather is less dependable.

One of the reasons for privatizing the maintenance of highways was to reduce the annual budget deficits and perhaps even pay off the province's accumulated debt. At a savings of $1 million in each of the 28 contract areas, we are not going to pay off a lot of debts.

The premier told me earlier this year that he's quite aware of the dangers inherent in this privatization experiment. He admitted that the government could well face defeat over this issue. He's betting on a mild or at least normal first post-

privatization winter, and that's a reckless bet. A couple of good blizzards in northern B.C. could play havoc with the best intentions of the private sector to do a good job on our highways. They simply don't have the experience the highways ministry has amassed during decades of battling the elements.

The highways ministry also wasn't hamstrung by the need to turn a profit. It could draw on additional funds during particularly bad winters. The same goes for the private sector. It, too, can and will ask the government for more money to deal with extraordinary circumstances. But no matter how justified these requests for additional money might be, they will look bad. The public won't be amused.

The one thing that might help the private firms get over the rough spots during the first few years is the expertise of the staff. Part of the privatization agreements is job security for employees.

The agreement covering southern Vancouver Island contains job offers for all 88 regular employees at their present position and salary. The company has also agreed to guarantee successorship for the B.C. Government Employees Union and to give employees any wage increases and fringe benefits the union may negotiate on behalf of government workers over the next few months.

But knowing how the private sector operates, I wouldn't give a plugged nickel for the job security of former highways employees past the first year. Nor would I put any bets on future wage increases for a while.

After all maintenance responsibilities have been transferred, the highways ministry's most important function will be to monitor the performance of the private sector. From then on, the government's fortunes ride on good weather.

Former highways minister Alex Fraser has said the government could lose at least a dozen seats, maybe as many as 15, over this move. Even allowing for Fraser's own axe-grinding, his predictions may well turn out to be right.

As for my own hopes, they're in total conflict with those of the government. As an avid skier, I am looking forward to a banner year for snow.

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