By Joelle Kovach, Peterborough Examiner (May 12, 2016) – A new Environics poll says 93 per cent of Peterborough residents don’t want their locally owned utility sold to private investors.
The poll was commissioned by CUPE Ontario. At a press conference outside City Hall on Wednesday morning, the results were announced.
The poll was meant to gauge people’s attitudes about a proposed sale of Peterborough Distribution Inc. (PDI) to Hydro One.
“The people of Peterborough were clearly, squarely and firmly against it,” said Fred Hahn, president of CUPE Ontario.
Environics conducted a telephone survey of 762 Peterborough residents on April 28.
Another statistic: 80 per cent of respondents said they’d be less likely to vote in the next election for a councillor who voted to sell off PDI.
About 30 people were at the announcement of the poll results outside City Hall on Wednesday morning.
Roy Brady said he has a message for city councillors, who will ultimately be asked to vote on whether or not to sell the utility.
“Take control of your elected body,” he said, adding that Mayor Daryl Bennett, who’s talked about the benefits of a sale, shouldn’t be allowed to “control the file.”
Bennett was inside City Hall in his office during the press conference, yet Brady spoke as though the mayor could hear him.
“Mayor Bennett, will you please end this farce,” Brady said. “We don’t want you to go this route.”
Bennett wouldn’t comment on the matter, following the press conference, but he did release a written response.
He questioned the validity of the poll, given that a formal offer to buy the utility hasn’t been presented to council.
“It’s premature,” Bennett stated. “Let’s see the offer and then decide what’s best for our community.”
He noted that Hydro One and PDI have said the city would likely net between $40 million and $50 million if the sale goes forward.
Council could then decide to invest that money to yield an annual return of $2 million for the city, which doubles the revenues now generated by PDI.
Bennett also stated that the electricity distribution rate would decrease by 1 per cent, if PDI were sold, and that rate would be frozen for five years.
But Coun. Diane Therrien is concerned about what happens after those five years are up.
“There’s empirical evidence that after those five years, the rates go up – and they go up a lot,” she said outside City Hall, right after the press conference.
That’s been the experience in other cities where public utilities were sold, Therrien said – the rate freeze gives way to soaring hydro rates.
She said she’s strongly opposed to a sale because the benefits have been extolled with no regard for the potential downside.
“I think we’re being sold a very skewed perception of what this deal will be,” she said.
Coun. Keith Riel was also at the press conference, and he said he is also against a sale.
Riel said he’s heard from hundreds of constituents who feel the same way.
He said he’s heard about the potential benefits of the sale, but he still doesn’t think PDI should leave public hands.
“I know what the sales pitch is,” he said. “I’m sorry – I don’t agree.”
WHERE THE CITY COUNCILLORS STAND AT THIS POINT
Mayor Daryl Bennett said in a statement that it’s “premature” to decide about a potential sale of PDI to Hydro One, given that there’s no offer to purchase on the table.
Some other councillors said the same on Wednesday – so they remain undecided.
Here’s where councillors stood:
Coun. Dan McWilliams: Unavailable for comment
Coun. Lesley Parnell: Undecided
Coun. Henry Clarke: Undecided
Coun. Don Vassiliadis: No
Coun. Diane Therrien: No
Coun. Dean Pappas: No
Coun. Keith Riel: No
Coun. Gary Baldwin: Undecided (but leaning toward no)
Coun. Andrew Beamer: Undecided
Coun. Dave Haacke: Undecided