Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 2/11/2015 (659 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
aybe you haven’t noticed, but there’s something strange going on in Ontario.
For several months, some of the people in Canada’s largest province have been committing heresy.
That’s right, they’ve been talking about something politicians in Manitoba are afraid to even whisper in public.
The Liberal government of Kathleen Wynne is going to sell Ontario-owned Hydro One on the open market. To private buyers. For profit.
Of course this sacrilege would never happen here, where Manitoba Hydro is regarded by all political parties as some kind of sacred birthright, an eternal benefit bestowed on the people for all time.
Any discussion about changing its corporate structure is anathema.
Ms. Wynne plans to sell 60 per cent of Hydro One, which manages the province’s transmission grid, on the stock market for $9 billion. After debt, the province would be left with $4 billion in cash, plus an annual dividend of about $300 million, less than half of what it gets now.
The government’s decision has set off a firestorm of debate. The province’s budget watchdog says privatization is a mistake because it will ultimately weaken the province’s bottom line.
Ms. Wynne says the sale will provide cash to improve Ontario’s competitive position in the world by investing in new roads, bridges and public transit. New tax revenues, she says, will offset the reduction in annual dividends.
Opponents say hydro rates will go up and service will decline. Supporters say Hydro One will become more profitable and more efficient. Private firms, they say, are better at cutting costs than governments.
The point here isn’t to defend or condemn the privatization plan. Governments around the world have experimented with privatizing utilities with mixed results. It all depends on the details and circumstances.
Ontario has had many conversations about the issue of public versus private ownership over the last few decades. It’s a sensitive and complicated issue, fraught with perils and opportunities.
No, the point is Manitoba has never had a single conversation, not one report or study, zero debate on the merits of reorganizing Manitoba Hydro into several components, some of which could be publicly owned, others sold to private interests.
The political parties aren’t interested, mainly because the NDP has succeeded in turning the Crown corporation into an untouchable sacred cow. The Progressive Conservative party has been so battered by accusations it has a secret agenda to sell the utility, it has been forced to be as religious as the NDP in refusing to consider any changes to Hydro’s status.
Former Tory leader Hugh McFadyen even proposed a Legacy Act that would have made Manitoba Hydro immune from privatization, in whole or in part. Under the proposed act, all 57 MLAs would have had to consent to changing Hydro’s ownership structure.
NDP legislation already requires a public referendum with the support of 51 per cent of voters before it could be sold.
Current Tory Leader Brian Pallister refuses to even entertain questions on the subject. Instead, he proclaims his own fanatical opposition to considering how Hydro’s potential might be exploited in the public interest.
The future of Ontario Hydro, of course, is also a political issue, but somehow leaders there have found a way to discuss the matter in the open.
It may well be that retaining Manitoba Hydro in its present form as a public monopoly is good social and economic policy.
But surely the people are entitled to an independent analysis to determine if there is a better way to manage the corporation in the best interests of all.