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Hydro review raises spectre of privatization: NDP

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 6/9/2019 (216 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

Word of a new, outside review of Manitoba Hydro's operations was seized upon Friday by the NDP as proof the Progressive Conservatives want to privatize parts or all of the province's largest Crown corporation.

However, a Hydro spokesman quickly rejected the theory, saying the new study was commissioned by the corporation — not the provincial government — to aid it in developing a 20-year strategic plan.

Manitoba NDP Leader Wab Kinew said the announcement of a new review of Manitoba Hydro's operations has raised the spectre that parts or all of Manitoba Hydro will be privatized.

MIKE DEAL / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

Manitoba NDP Leader Wab Kinew said the announcement of a new review of Manitoba Hydro's operations has raised the spectre that parts or all of Manitoba Hydro will be privatized.

In a staff memo dated Thursday, Hydro president and chief executive officer Jay Grewal announced the company had hired PricewaterhouseCoopers to conduct a review of the Crown corporation's operating model.

Grewal said she engaged PwC to address some of the challenges facing the electric power and natural gas utility. She said its long-term strategic planning process has already highlighted "potentially disruptive forces that could reshape the energy utility industry."

"The timing is right for a review of how we operate, how we are organized, and how we make decisions to ensure that they are in the best interests of our customers," she wrote.

NDP Leader Wab Kinew and officials from two unions that represent Hydro workers held a news conference Friday afternoon to denounce the review while raising the spectre of privatization.

Kinew said the timing of the review — announced only days before a provincial election — makes it a ballot-box issue.

On the campaign trail

Advance voting up over 2016

Elections Manitoba reported Friday a total of 113,605 votes had already been cast in the provincial election.

In a news release, the agency said 112,983 Manitobans cast ballots during the eight days of advance voting this year, compared to about 110,000 in 2016. As well, 409 absentee votes and 213 homebound votes had been received.

Election day is Tuesday. Voting places will be open from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m.

Eligible voters can check their voter information card or the Elections Manitoba website for information on where to vote. Everyone must show ID to vote, either one piece of government-issued photo ID or two other pieces. Voters are encouraged to bring their voter information card, which can be used as a piece of ID.

Advance voting up over 2016

Elections Manitoba reported Friday a total of 113,605 votes had already been cast in the provincial election.

In a news release, the agency said 112,983 Manitobans cast ballots during the eight days of advance voting this year, compared to about 110,000 in 2016. As well, 409 absentee votes and 213 homebound votes had been received.

Election day is Tuesday. Voting places will be open from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m.

Eligible voters can check their voter information card or the Elections Manitoba website for information on where to vote. Everyone must show ID to vote, either one piece of government-issued photo ID or two other pieces. Voters are encouraged to bring their voter information card, which can be used as a piece of ID.

PCs vow to address cross-border flooding

The Progressive Conservatives have pledged to address water management issues in southwest Manitoba.

They promised Friday to spend $1 million on watershed mapping, and said they'd work with the government of Saskatchewan to improve cross-border co-operation on drainage issues.

“Manitoba landowners, particularly in Westman, continue to be hit by excess water and flooding in the spring,” said PC Leader Brian Pallister. “Our additional investments and the steps we are announcing today will improve protection for downstream landowners and enhance watershed management on the Prairies.”

Greens set mental health funding goal

A provincial government headed by the Green Party of Manitoba would increase the percentage of the health-care budget spent on mental health services to 10 per cent, leader James Beddome promised.

Beddome estimated the province currently spends about five per cent of its budget on mental health.

The leader told reporters Friday his party would invest in psychologists, harm-reduction programs and telehealth services for Manitobans, especially in remote communities.

Indigenous people, low-income Manitobans and others in marginalized groups are affected the most when it comes to mental health and addiction, Beddome said.

"We have, honestly, a crisis on our hands and we need a party that's going to deal with this, that's going to take this seriously and, sadly, the Pallister government has failed to do that," Beddome said.

"To me, it also shows a disrespect for the people of Manitoba. You have the chance to make your voice heard this coming Tuesday, and one of the things that you'll have the chance to vote on is whether or not you want to keep your Hydro rates low and whether you want to keep Manitoba Hydro public," he said.

Michelle Bergen, president of CUPE 998, which represents about 950 Hydro employees, said when Grewal's message appeared on the staff website, workers were shocked.

"We received absolutely no indication from Hydro that this review would be taking place," she said. "There is zero indication that concerns of Hydro employees or the public will be sought or taken into consideration."

Mike Velie, assistant business manager of IBEW Local 2034, which represents 2,600 workers, also expressed concern.

"The current model of having Manitoba Hydro publicly owned and operated has resulted in Manitobans enjoying not only some of the lowest rates in Canada, but on the continent," he said.

"If Manitoba Hydro is privatized in part or whole, it can take the Manitobans' electricity supply out of our hands, put it at the mercy of a private company whose priority will be profit for shareholders, and most likely shareholders in the United States."

The Progressive Conservatives issued a statement saying they have no plans to privatize Manitoba Hydro, should they be re-elected, and will work to make sure it remains sustainable and publicly owned.

"The PwC operating review was commissioned by Manitoba Hydro, not our government. We understand it was an operational decision made in the interest of developing a strategic plan that aligns with the best interests of Hydro customers."

Hydro spokesman Scott Powell said the Crown corporation commissioned the study a couple of weeks ago.

"We engaged PricewaterhouseCoopers in this review for one reason: to ensure we operate in the best interests of our customers," he said. "It's that simple."

Meanwhile, Grewal said in her message employees should not fear a new round of staff reductions.

"Please be assured that government is aware that we have already achieved our reduction targets and there is no indication that government will be seeking further reductions in staffing levels from Hydro," she wrote.

Her comments seemed to refer to a Tory campaign pledge to seek $31 million in savings through further reductions in senior management positions "across summary government organizations."

jessica.botelho@freepress.mb.ca

larry.kusch@freepress.mb.ca

Larry Kusch

Larry Kusch
Legislature Reporter

Larry Kusch didn’t know what he wanted to do with his life until he attended a high school newspaper editor’s workshop in Regina in the summer of 1969 and listened to a university student speak glowingly about the journalism program at Carleton University in Ottawa.

Read full biography

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