By: Rob Ferguson Toronto Star (Sep 22 2015) — Controversy over the privatization of Hydro One followed Premier Kathleen Wynne to the International Plowing Match, where opposition rivals drew applause Tuesday for urging her to back down on the sale.
Wynne was on the main stage for the opening ceremonies of the annual rural showcase when Progressive Conservative Leader Patrick Brown and his NDP counterpart Andrea Horwath separately blasted the government over Hydro One and electricity prices, which they fear will go up because of the deal.
Wynne later defended it, saying the $9 billion from selling a 60-per-cent stake in the utility will raise money for transit and infrastructure, including “roads and bridges in rural Ontario,” and debt reduction.
“I understand there will continue to be a discussion about that,” Wynne told reporters gathered in a tent city for the match outside Finch, a small farming community nestled amid rolling fields north of Cornwall.
The partial sale will inject private-sector discipline and innovation to Hydro One, the Liberal government contends, making it more profitable and making up for dividends that will be shared with private investors, none of whom will hold more than a 10-per-cent stake.
“We want Hydro One to be the best company that it can be,” Wynne added, noting the government will retain control and refusing to comment on what directions the new board might take on acquisitions and growth.
Horwath said Wynne and the Liberals are “talking out of both sides of their mouth” by insisting the government will be the controlling shareholder and yet give the company free rein.
“Ontarians would be very pleased if Kathleen Wynne climbed down and backed away from this,” Horwath said in an interview as tractors rolled past and farmers window-shopped for new combines and other machinery behind her on a picture-perfect sunny day.
Before heading off to a furrow-plowing competition for the party leaders — his first time — Brown cited recent public opinion polls showing about 80 per cent of people surveyed concerned about the sale of an important public asset.
“I’m hopeful that she’ll listen. It’s unusual when you see such a consensus . . . that there’s such an overwhelming opposition,” he told the Star.
“If the premier changed her opinion and backed off on the fire sale, I would applaud her for doing the right thing.”
Green party Leader Mike Schreiner urged the major parties to do more to protect prime farmland, which he said is disappearing at the rate of 350 acres daily.
“We can’t eat subdivisions, quarries, highways or pipelines.”