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London chapter at overpass protest against the privatization of Hydro One

The Council of Canadians London chapter took part in a protest against the privatization of Hydro One at the Wellington Road 401 Overpass this past Family Day holiday, Monday February 20.

The Facebook outreach noted, “There will be a large banner, balloons and Keep Hydro Public signs for people to hold. Please feel free to bring signs of your own.”

In October 2015, Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne confirmed that 60 per cent of Hydro One, the publicly-owned provincial electrical transmission and distribution utility, would be sold to raise $9 billion to pay down the provincial debt and to fund public transit and infrastructure projects.

Shares in the utility first went on sale in November 2015. As of December 2016, the provincial Liberal government had sold about 30 per cent of the shares in Hydro One and had raised about $3.8 billion.

The London chapter has argued against the sale saying public ownership is the best option, there is no evidence that private ownership leads to cost savings, rate payers could face higher costs as transnational corporations buy shares in the utility, and that Hydro One turns over about $750 million in revenue annually to the province that is reinvested in schools, hospitals and other critical infrastructure.

Toronto Star columnist Thomas Walkom comments, “Of all the maladroit moves Wynne has made as premier, privatizing Hydro One is the worst. It creates no economic benefit for the province. Nor does it help the government’s finances. In fact, as the Financial Accountability Officer and others have pointed out, the loss of lucrative Hydro One dividends will ultimately cost the provincial treasury more than it gains.”

In December 2016, the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) launched a legal challenge against the privatization of Hydro One. They are represented by public interest lawyer Steven Shrybman who is also a member of The Council of Canadians’ Board of Directors.

Global News recently reported, “CUPE alleges the Liberals inappropriately mixed government and party business by holding fundraisers with cabinet ministers, including one $7,500-a-ticket event with [provincial finance minister Charles] Sousa and [infrastructure minister Bob] Chiarelli that was attended by bankers who profited from the privatization of Hydro One.”

Walkom adds, “The plaintiffs make two interesting allegations. First they say the government cost taxpayers an extra $2.6 billion when it covered, on behalf of the future private owners of Hydro One, a key tax liability owed by the utility. Second, the plaintiffs say that in allocating the proceeds of the sale, the government cost business and industrial electricity users an additional $1.2 billion in so-called debt retirement charges that they should not have had to pay.”

But the Ontario government has now given CUPE notice that it will be filing a motion to strike the case as an abuse of process.

In response, Walkom notes, “The government’s key argument is that the courts have no business second-guessing lawful ministerial actions. The government also insists that if ministers have acted contrary to the Members’ Integrity Act, as the lawsuit alleges, then any remedy lies solely with their fellow legislators — not with judges. Whether or not that claim is valid, it is odd to see a government so down in the polls trumpeting the sanctity of parliamentary privilege.”

A public opinion poll released last week found that the opposition Progressive Conservatives have 33 per cent public support, the Liberals stand at 24 per cent, and the NDP at 23 per cent.

The next provincial election will be held on or before June 7, 2018.