Whatever happened to cheap ‘power for the people’?

By MPP Toby Barrett

“I’m worried about electricity prices in Ontario.” – Magna CEO Don Walker

For well over a century, Ontario and its manufacturing industries have been blessed with inexpensive electrical energy.

It was May 1906 that an Act was passed creating the Hydro Electric Power Commission to distribute power and regulate private utilities. The impetus came from MPP Adam Beck of ‘power for the people’ fame.

However, we now hear grim news from companies like auto parts giant Magna International – a company concerned about Ontario’s industrial electricity rates and the future of auto assembly in the province. A year ago, Magna CEO Don Walker cited high electricity rates as one reason no new Magna plants are being planned for Ontario.
A week ago, AMPCO – The Association of Major Power Consumers in Ontario – predicted electrical costs for large industrial users could rise by up to 15 per cent in the next six years.

And, of course, the residential user has now gotten to the point where bills are unaffordable – my office has received hundreds of calls and e-mails from people who can’t pay their hydro bills.

Today we face the spectre of the present government selling off 60 per cent of Hydro One, and in the process, losing majority control and any semblance of public oversight.

Hydro One is a valuable asset for all the people of Ontario. Once we no longer own a majority, it’s gone – that is something my colleagues and I will not endorse. Please join us in opposing the sale of Hydro One.

The privatization of Hydro One is a fire sale to garner some fast money – ostensibly to go to infrastructure. Whether that is how any money from the sale will actually be used is something we won’t know for many years, if ever. There is no guarantee.

There are three key reasons we as Opposition do not support this majority sale.

First, the sale is being done in secret. The decision to sell Hydro One was made in secret and without public input. There will be no information on how many offers are coming in, received or from whom. No information on the price being offered. No information on the conditions attached to the offer to purchase. You would never let your real estate agent sell your home without knowing the price, the number of offers, or the conditions.

Secondly, Ontarians will lose majority control. With less than majority ownership, the people of Ontario lose control of how the province’s energy future will evolve. Government will no longer have the authority to make decisions it believes are in the best interest of the people and the province. And there will be no input on the rates that will be charged – people can’t afford their hydro bill as it is.

Thirdly, there won’t be real oversight. Public oversight of Hydro One will disappear. That means there won’t be an independent body, such as the Ontario Ombudsman or Auditor General, overseeing how customers are treated or how the business is operated. The Ombudsman has just reported on more than 10,000 Hydro One billing complaints of an estimated 100,000 people who have had billing problems.

With this Hydro One sale, no one will be watching out for you and the price you pay!