From People’s Voice
The battle against privatization in Ontario is gathering steam as the Liberal government moves to sell Hydro One – the largest supplier of publicly owned and controlled electricity in North America. The privatization was hidden in the budget presented in April with little fanfare. The government knew the move would be unpopular, as the Harris Tories had tried to do the same thing in 2002, only to be forced to back off by an irate public.
So Premier Wynne proposed to sell off 60%, and “keep” 40%, claiming this would allow for public control of the utility, while “unlocking the value” tied up in Hydro One to pay for the government’s unfunded 10 year, $130 billion infrastructure program.
Indeed this is a valuable asset: debt-free, unencumbered with Ontario’s nuclear plants, and generating a tidy profit of $1 billion a year for the provincial treasury. It also produces a reliable stream of relatively cheap and reliable electricity for residents, industry, and business. So why sell it off?
The bankers – Don Drummond and Ed Clark – recommended the sell-off, in answer to Wynne’s request for proposals to restructure public services and assets, to pay for the infrastructure plan which was the centerpiece of the Liberals’ 2014 election platform. The plan could have been paid for by increasing the corporate tax rate, which is the lowest in the industrialized world, and much lower than the Great Lake states around Ontario. But the Liberals have committed to further reduce corporate taxes, while also eliminating the provincial deficit.
Just one thing is left to do: liquidate public services and assets, and reduce public sector jobs, wages, benefits and pensions. This fits with the government’s “big picture” austerity plans and the overarching goal to make government smaller.
The Liberals are currently attacking unionized public sector workers (and non-union workers as well), and have already sold off land and buildings in Toronto and other big cities. The privatized Service Ontario is now operating out of Canadian Tire stores. Public hospitals are being closed and replaced with P3 hospitals and private clinics. School closures ordered by the Liberals are also part of the picture, as School Boards are expected to use those assets in lieu of capital funding from the province, to repair and rebuild aging schools.
The sell-off of Hydro One is being described as the cornerstone of the Liberals’ privatization agenda. There are so many things wrong with this plan, it’s hard to know where to start. First is the loss of $1 billion a year in income to fund social programs and public services.
Second is the hand-over of a highly profitable crown corporation to the private sector, which will immediately turn it into a profitable cash cow and raise residential and industrial rates.
Third is the loss of control of electricity production in Ontario. The 2004 blackout due to private ownership and control of the US electrical grids, and Ontario’s reliance on those grids, should be enough reason by itself to keep Hydro public. Add in provincial Ombudsman Andre Marin’s report exposing massive over-billing problems, compounded by a massive cover-up in 2014, and the facts speak for themselves.
The issue of the public interest and control, which the Premier says are assured with 40% control, is another ruse by the Liberals. In fact, the public’s “representatives” need not be accountable to the government or the public. They could easily end up being bankers or corporate hedge fund managers whose interests are diametrically opposed to the public interest.
This is a very bad deal for Ontario. And the government knows it, so they are hurrying to push the budget Bill through the Legislature as quickly as possible.
The Electricity Coalition, which led the fight against the Harris Tories, is reconvening to fight this deal. The labour movement, Council of Canadians, the NDP and Communist Party, among many others, are mobilizing public opinion. These were the forces that stopped the Tories in 2002, and they can stop the Liberals in 2015.
One immediate battle is to force the government to hold public hearings, which will provide the opportunity to widely expose the folly of the privatization of Hydro, and provide more time to mobilize opposition.
For more information, contact the Communist Party (Ontario) at 416-469-2446 or http://www.communistpartyontario.ca.