Editorial, Peterborough Examiner (May 7, 2016) – Whether the city-owned utility company should sell off the wires, poles, generators and transformers that carry electricity to every home and business in Peterborough is a very big decision.
It’s big because of the amount of money involved – the city could walk away with $30 million to $40 million.
And it’s big because control of electricity distribution in the city and, to some degree, the rates people pay for their electricity, could end up in the hands of the buyer, Hydro One.
That control would be passing out of the public domain and into the private sector once the province finishes selling off 60 per cent of Hydro One.
For all those big reasons, and a number of smaller but still important ones, city residents and the business community need a clear understanding of what is at stake before city council starts its decision-making process.
With that in mind, a public meeting was held in March. More than 260 people turned out, most of them opposed. They did not hear all the information they asked for.
“I understand it’s not the fullest picture,” the president of the utility company told the crowd. “It’s the start of the conversation, not the end.”
City council delivered the same message: Be patient, this will be a long process and all the details will come out.
Another public meeting to outline details of a final sale proposal and hear comments was the minimum expectation.
Now it appears that might not happen.
Mayor Daryl Bennett has said that from here on in the sale will be dealt like any other matter. Council will debate the final agreement in committee, with no opportunity for the public to speak, and vote on it.
That committee recommendation will then go to a full council meeting where the public will be able to speak and ask questions. Council will then vote on whether to accept or reject its own recommendation.
For most council business that process works adequately. However, this decision requires more.
The details of a final sale proposal should be released, followed by a public meeting where everyone concerned can have a say and councillors and professional staff can hear those comments and respond.
The public is owed that opportunity, not least because council from the start gave the strong impression that that’s the way this important issue would be handled – a public conversation.
Conversations can be messy. Public meetings on controversial issues are usually long and people sometimes get angry.
But when an essential service like electricity supply is up for grabs, people deserve to be part the conversation.
Especially when they have been all but promised that a conversation is coming.