Hydro One not premier’s to sell, NDP leader says

By Rob Houle

The St. Catharine’s Standard (June 16, 2015) — The Liberal government has no mandate from the people of Ontario to sell off Hydro One, NDP Leader Andrea Horwath said to a gathering of like-minded people Tuesday night.

“I think everybody in this province knows that this government has no mandate to sell off Hydro One,” Horwath said to raucous applause in her opening remarks to an overflow crowd of more than 100 people gathered at the Privatizing Hydro One: You Pay the Price town hall meeting at the Hilton Garden Inn in Niagara-on-the-Lake. “We went through an election campaign just one short year ago and not once did Kathleen Wynne talk about the sell off of Hydro One during that campaign. Hydro One is not Kathleen Wynne’s to sell off. Hydro One belongs to all of us in this room.”

The provincial government plans on following the recommendations in a report tabled by retired banker Ed Clark in April that calls for the sale of 60% of the public agency that oversees the distribution and transmission of electricity in Ontario. The government, which says it will not sell off more than 10% to any one entity, expects the sale to add $9 billion to the treasury, $5 billion of which will be used to lower the debt in the electricity system and $4 billion to pay for infrastructure needs.

Clark acknowledged the government of Ontario will lose a minimum of $100- $150 million annually in Ontario Hydro revenues, but will see improvements in its overall bottom line thanks to improved performance by the economy as a result of the re-investments.

Wynne has said consumers need not fear skyrocketing rates since the price of electricity will remain regulated.

Horwath lamented the lost annual revenue Hydro One currently provides its only shareholder.

“That money, once the sell off happens, is no longer going … into the coffers of Ontario to pay for things like education, to pay for things like health care, to pay for things like infrastructure. Instead, that money is going to go to return on investment to shareholders.

“So, rates are going to go up. Revenues are going to go down to the provincial treasury. And we’re very, very, very concerned with the reliability of our system as that system is sold off to the private sector. It will not be run in the public interest any longer,” said Horwath, who was joined at the meeting by Niagara Falls MPP Wayne Gates and Welland MPP Cindy Forster, two members of her party. “It will be run for the interest of private profit makers.”

Horwath said she has introduced a private member’s bill that would require the province to hold a referendum on the issue.

Niagara-on-the-Lake Hydro president Tim Curtis, told the crowd that the utility, which does not endorse any political party, is against the sell off of Hydro One because it is not “in the best interest of the Ontario electricity consumer.”

He said the interim report tabled by Clark in November did not recommend that Hydro One be sold, but rather that it be “split into two businesses — the distribution business and the transmission business.”

Curtis said his utility agreed with that recommendation, feeling distribution of electricity should reside with local utilities. He called that recommendation in November a “good first step” towards breaking up Hydro One distribution into smaller locally controlled utilities.

“We know from our experience in the distribution business, being closer to the customer means better service and lower costs,” Curtis said. “You get rid of all the excess overhead. Our analysis has clearly shown that there are major issues with the way the Hydro One distribution is run. Their rates have gone up 44% in the last 10 years, most of the other utilities, it’s around 16-20%.”

He said the transmission business is well run by Hydro One and “should stay provincial-wide with one company.”

He said the only reason the final report tabled by Clark recommended a partial sell off, was because the government directed the panel to find ways to raise cash.

“So as result, with outside investors, the breakup of Hydro One, which is needed to reduce rates, will never happen,” Curtis said.

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Original Story by By Rob Houle