In the advertising world they say if you repeat something enough times, people will start to believe it. Clearly this is what Kathleen Wynne is banking on with her plan to privatize Hydro One.
But no matter how many times the Liberals repeat their lines, the people of Thunder Bay just aren’t buying it. People here and in communities across Ontario know selling 60 per cent of Hydro One to private investors makes no sense.
In Thunder Bay, a whopping 87 per cent of the population thinks the hydro sell-off is a bad idea.
The sale would mean a complete loss of control over our energy grid. I’m no math whiz, but I do know is that 40 per cent is not a majority. Whatever promises the Liberals make — and we’ve heard a lot of them over the years — the government won’t hold a majority of shares in Hydro One. They won’t have a majority of seats on the board of governors, either.
What we do know is the sale will result in higher hydro rates. Rates are already high because much of our power generation has been privatized. Why should we believe more of this wrong-headed approach will result in anything different?
Everywhere hydro has been privatized rates have gone up. Adding in the corporate need for profit will do that, and the Liberals just changed the law so Hydro One can hire expensive lobbyists to push for even higher rates and more profits.
Think about what that will mean next time there’s an ice storm. Will the private owners sacrifice profits to pay round-the-clock overtime to get your lights and heat restored as quickly as possible? Of course not.
There is a myth about “private-sector discipline” leading to lower costs and better service. Ask yourself, how happy are you with your cable bills? How about your cellphone service?
All MPPs, including Michael Gravelle and Bill Mauro, need to understand their role in representing the interests of constituents. In Thunder Bay, with 84 per cent of Liberal voters opposed to the Hydro sell-off, they have to ask themselves what will happen in the next provincial election.
The hydro sell-off also means less accountability. The Liberals just changed the laws to get rid of public oversight of Hydro One. The provincial ombudsman won’t be able to do anything if there’s a billing scandal. The auditor general won’t be able to tell us if there are financial shenanigans. And you won’t be able to find out any details of the sale.
Let’s stop there for a moment. You won’t know anything about this sell-off of something you own — something our parents and grandparents spent their hard-earned dollars to build together. Why? Because the same set of legal changes remove Hydro One from coverage by freedom of information.
This is the same Liberal government that brought us costly privatization fiascos like Ornge, eHealth and the cancelled gas plants, so why would we think more privatization will be different?
Even if it were, the sale still doesn’t make sense.
Hydro One provides the government with hundreds of millions a year in revenue. According to Douglas Peters, former TD Bank chief economist and secretary of state (finance) in the Chretien government, the sale will cost the government money.
And this isn’t about infrastructure or transit either. With borrowing rates are at record lows, we’re better off borrowing money for infrastructure and keeping the hydro revenues. We make more off Hydro One than we’d pay in interest.
That means less money for already strapped public services like education and health care — services that will be further hit by rising hydro rates.
Simple truth: They don’t need to sell Hydro One. In a $130-billion infrastructure package, the money from the hydro sale is three per cent of what is promised and won’t make a difference. Except, that is, to the banks and brokers who will grab a few hundred million in fees for themselves.
They’ll get more as the Liberals continue their privatization plan. The next step on the hydro file will be merging local distribution companies. In Thunder Bay, that means the local utility will become part of a single company serving the entire Northwest. How much control do you think you’ll have in Thunder Bay when that happens?
The privatization cycle won’t stop with energy. In other countries it has continued with roads, hospitals, schools, and will go on and on. Each time it happens, we’ll get worse service and higher costs. People in Northern Ontario know this well. Just look at what happened with winter road maintenance.
Kathleen Wynne may want the people of Thunder Bay to believe this is a done deal. It’s not. Even with the passage of their omnibus bill, we still own 100 per cent of Hydro One. Working together in our communities, with strong opposition like that coming from the people of Thunder Bay, we can keep Hydro public.
Fred Hahn is president of CUPE Ontario.