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B.C. government guilty of misfeasance in long-running water dispute

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A legal dispute over bulk water exports from a B.C. ghost town to drought-stricken California has finally ended – 30 years after it began.

BC Supreme Court Justice Lesak ruled this week that former premier Bill Vander Zalm and the Social Credit government of the day were guilty of misfeasance in public office in giving a company named Western Canada Water (WCW) “preferential treatment in an unlawful manner.”

Damages will be decided at a later date. The current government hasn’t said whether it will appeal.

In the mid 1980s, the provincial government allowed private companies to sell bulk water to the United States from the area around Ocean Falls.

The stated aims of the government were twofold: to create a new source of revenue and to revitalize Ocean Falls, at one point the largest city on the Central Coast, which had been decaying ever since the pulp and paper mill shut down.

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WATCH: The quest to sell water from Ocean Falls began 30 years ago. John Daly reported live from Ocean Falls on March 28, 1986.

Archive: B.C. aims to sell Ocean Falls water to the United States
Archive: B.C. aims to sell Ocean Falls water to the United States

The government made several agreements with WCW in the late 1980s and early 90s. But Justice Lesak ruled the government gave an unfair advantage over other companies, including Rain Coast Water Corp., whose owner initiated the lawsuit.

“The initial selection of WCW was a clear example of giving favorable treatment to one competitor at the expense of others, including the plaintiff, and against the public interest,” wrote Lesak.

“I am prepared to find the Provincial Government to be guilty of Category B misfeasance in public office as well as the then Premier, Bill Vander Zalm.”