Sound bytes and witch hunts won’t quell hy­dro anger

The Standard (St. Catharines) - - Opinion -

Ac­cord­ing to En­vi­ron­ment Canada, the odds of get­ting hit by light­ning are lower than one in a mil­lion.

Un­less you’re the Kath­leen Wynne Lib­er­als.

In that case, you get zapped pretty much any time the sub­ject of hy­dro comes up in On­tario. It doesn’t mat­ter whether the specifics are big or small, the sub­ject is a light­ning rod for On­tar­i­ans’ anger and dis­con­tent, both with hy­dro rates and with the Lib­er­als.

It hap­pened again this week, with pre­dictable re­sults. But let’s try to drill down a bit to get past the rhetoric and sound bytes.

CBC was first to re­port that, back in Jan­uary, Hy­dro One board mem­bers voted to boost their own com­pen­sa­tion. After that boost, those part-time jobs pay $185,000. And at the time of the board de­ci­sion, Hy­dro One’s share price was fall­ing.

Pre­dictably, out­raged fol­lowed from all the usual play­ers. Doug Ford waxed apoplec­tic, promis­ing to fire the bums and the CEO as well. An­drea Hor­wath re­minded On­tar­i­ans, again, that we wouldn’t be in this po­si­tion if the power util­ity was still un­der com­pletely pub­lic con­trol. And Kath­leen Wynne, still smok­ing from the light­ing strike, also con­demned the raise while say­ing her gov­ern­ment has al­ready planned a re­view of util­ity gov­er­nance in­clud­ing com­pen­sa­tion.

All this sound and fury? It masks a dif­fi­cult truth. Not one of the three par­ties has a be­liev­able, vi­able plan to re­ally do what On­tar­i­ans want — to re­duce elec­tric­ity rates sub­stan­tially and over the long term.

Con­sider: Hor­wath’s NDP prom­ise to cut hy­dro rates 30 per cent. They will “end the over­sup­ply of power” and “ag­gres­sively” rene­go­ti­ate con­tracts.

You don’t need to be an ex­pert to rec­og­nize this is pretty loose talk. Cut­ting rates that much would prob­a­bly mean sell­ing power for less than it costs to make. How will that help?

The NDP also prom­ises to buy back the part of Hy­dro One the Lib­er­als sold to the pri­vate sec­tor. That sounds like bring­ing back the good old days, but open your wal­let first.

Those shares have been ap­pre­ci­at­ing in value. They will cost a lot of money. The gov­ern­ment would need to use div­i­dends it gets from the pri­va­ti­za­tion to buy back the pri­va­tized share. Not only would be ex­pen­sive, but it would take years, ac­cord­ing to cred­i­ble in­dus­try ex­perts.

Doug Ford’s hy­dro so­lu­tion is even less re­al­is­tic. So he fires Hy­dro One ex­ec­u­tives and the board. (It’s not even clear he could do this since it is not a pub­lic com­pany at this point.) What then? He’ll need a new board and a new CEO. That means his cronies and will re­place the Lib­eral ones there now. Will they work for noth­ing? Hy­dro One CEO Mayo Sch­midt’s salary sounds ridicu­lously high at over $6 mil­lion, but his wage and that of all the board is a drop in the fi­nan­cial bucket over­all.

Be­yond fir­ing the CEO and board, and pay­ing hefty sev­er­ance penal­ties to do so, Ford has no plan for hy­dro. He is sim­ply beat­ing a con­ve­nient scape­goat, but he doesn’t have a better idea. And keep in mind it was Ford’s party that be­gan the pri­va­ti­za­tion of power un­der Mike Har­ris.

The Wynne Lib­er­als? Sadly or not, it doesn’t mat­ter be­cause no one is lis­ten­ing to them.

Sim­plis­tic so­lu­tions won’t get the job done, and mak­ing Hy­dro One pub­lic again is a mas­sive and ex­pen­sive un­der­tak­ing.

No one in this elec­tion is be­ing straight with vot­ers, that much is clear.

No one in this elec­tion is be­ing straight with the vot­ers, that much is clear.

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