Oshawa residents rally against Hydro One privatization at town hall meeting

NDP leader Andrea Horwath urges residents to oppose proposed sale of 60 per cent of Hydro One

OSHAWA — Selling Hydro One is a big mistake that would send electricity rates skyrocketing, residents heard at a public meeting on the issue in Oshawa on May 19.

The event was organized by the Public Power Coalition in Oshawa which has been lobbying against the Ontario Liberal government’s plan to privatize 60 per cent of Hydro One in order to pay for infrastructure, including transit. About 150 people attended the meeting which featured signs like ‘407 ripoff, Hydro One rip off’ and ‘Don’t sell Hydro One, Don’t sell out Ontario’.

The panel of speakers included three NDP MPPs: party leader Andrea Horwath, Oshawa MPP Jennifer French and NDP energy critic Peter Tabuns. They were joined by Unifor Local 222 president Ron Svajlenko, Canadian Union of Public Employees Ontario regional vice-president Candace Rennick and Paul Kahnert, a retired Toronto Hydro worker and anti-privatization advocate who fought the Mike Harris government over the proposed privatization of Ontario Hydro. Organizers said they invited all Durham MPPs to attend the event.

The panelists argued that selling Hydro One would increase rates for residents and impact businesses such as General Motors, which recently laid off 1,000 workers.

Mr. Kahnert pointed out that hydro rates in Ontario have risen from 4.3 cents a kilowatt hour in 1999 to 16.1 cents a kilowatt hour at peak times, a 274 per cent increase, or 12 times the rate of inflation. He also pointed out that with the privatization, provincial accountability officers including the Ontario ombudsman and auditor general would no longer have oversight of the company.

Ms. French said she already hears from constituents who have a difficult time paying their hydro bills, especially seniors.

“I know that when rates go up they’re going to be hard hit along with all of our friends and neighbours. This is a really important fight for all of us so what we need to make sure we’re taking away from this evening is that action step,” she said urging people in attendance to sign a petition on the issue which she promised to take to the legislature.

Ms. Horwath said she has been talking to communities across Ontario about the issue of Hydro One.

“(Premier) Kathleen Wynne has no right to sell off Hydro One,” the NDP leader said. “She has no mandate to sell of Hydro One. She did not run in the last election campaign on a platform to privatize or sell off Hydro One.”

She asked if anyone had heard the Liberals talk about the issue during the campaign and the crowd answered with loud cry of “no”.

In April, the premier defended Hydro One partial privatization, saying it’s a “very different process” than the full sell-off the Progressive Conservative administration had planned in 2002 because Ontario will keep the largest single ownership stake and maintain regulatory and price control.

“We cannot sacrifice our future prosperity and our future economic health by not investing in infrastructure,” said the premier, noting she “ran on a review of assets” in the June 2014 election.

Ms. Horwath said there are other ways of raising dollars for infrastructure, including closing tax loopholes like the one that allows businesses to write off expenses when entertaining clients.

“It’s a false choice, they don’t have to sell off hydro to build infrastructure,” she said. She added that selling a portion of the utility would yield a one-time payout at the expense of a regular dividend from the company.

The meeting came on the day CUPE released a poll conducted by Environics showing 89 per cent of Oshawa residents are opposed to the privatization of Hydro One. Nine per cent supported privatization and two per cent didn’t know.

Further, the poll found 84 per cent of respondents felt privatizing 60 per cent of Hydro One would increase electricity rates while eight per cent felt they would decrease and seven per cent said there would be no impact.

A total of 610 residents were surveyed and the results were weighted to reflect the demographic makeup of Oshawa and had a margin of error of plus or minus four per cent, 19 times out of 20.

The panelists urged Oshawa residents to get involved by signing petitions, participating in local events and signing up at the NDP’s website on the issue: www.youpaytheprice.ca .

— With files from Torstar news services

Original Story at Durham Region by Reka Szekely