Kingston urges province to pull the plug on Hydro One sale


By Bill Hutchins,

(Sept. 8, 2015) – City council has sent a strong message to the Ontario government: Don’t sell Hydro One.

Kingston has joined the growing list of municipalities to oppose the pending privatization of the giant public utility. The Liberal government has said it intends to sell shares of Hydro to raise billions of dollars to help finance badly-needed municipal infrastructure projects.

The irony of opposing Hydro’s sell-off while seeking a share of the infrastructure funding wasn’t lost on council.

“There’s very much a conflict connected with Hydro and the need for infrastructure money,” observed Mayor Bryan Paterson.

But Coun. Jim Neill, who introduced the anti-Hydro sale motion Sept. 1, insisted the utility must remain under public control. He fears it will set the stage for higher electricity rates that will impact everyone, especially small business owners and those on fixed incomes.

“Why are we privatizing something that all citizens of Ontario already own?” he asked.

Coun. Neill also pointed to a recent Environics poll that suggested 81 per cent of Kingston residents oppose the notion of Hydro’s privatization. “I think 81 per cent of Kingstonians deserve to be heard.”

The fact that the government won’t allow the provincial auditor or hydro ombudsman to have any input or oversight after the utility’s sale is troubling, he added.

Coun. Jeff McLaren voiced concerns that privatizing a large part of the utility through an IPO, an initial public offering that leads to a stock market listing, with little public oversight could lead to higher electricity bills, or worse.

“We don’t want a Nortel Networks or Enron to run an essential business,” he said, referring to the collapse of two former corporate giants. “That is a bad deal and very bad policy.”

Councillors voted unanimously on the motion to support the “continued operation of Hydro One as a publicly owned asset” and that any sale of Hydro’s assets be “limited solely to the sale of other public bodies, such as Ontario municipally owned utilities.”

Copies of the motion will be sent to Premier Kathleen Wynne, local MPP Sophie Kiwala, opposition party leaders and other municipalities.

Coun. Neill chastised the provincial Liberals for not openly campaigning on its hydro plans in the last Ontario election in order to give voters more notice.

Council was originally supposed to vote on the motion last month, but agreed to hold off while Mayor Paterson led a Kingston delegation to lobby provincial cabinet ministers for infrastructure funding for the third bridge crossing, airport expansion and transit projects. The mayor said opposing Hydro’s sale while asking for the funding would’ve put him in a difficult situation. He thanked council for waiting.

“There was no awkwardness,” he said, while supporting the motion upon his return.

Utilities Kingston president Jim Keech also weighed in on the debate, noting the province is also pressuring local distribution companies, like Kingston Hydro, to amalgamate or sell their assets to larger utilities. He believes the pressure is based on the premise that bigger is better.

“I don’t think that’s been proven but it is the view of the province.”

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