Noth­ing fair about Wynne’s hy­dro plan

The Recorder & Times (Brockville) - - OPINION -

Queen’s Park com­mit­tee hear­ings into the fi­nan­cial de­ci­sions of for­mer pre­mier Kath­leen Wynne’s Lib­eral gov­ern­ment have pro­duced dev­as­tat­ing tes­ti­mony and doc­u­ments ex­pos­ing reck­less spend­ing.

Par­tic­u­larly as the Lib­er­als were head­ing into the June 2018 elec­tion, where they knew their chances of vic­tory were slim.

Wynne’s tes­ti­mony Mon­day, where she was ques­tioned about her Fair Hy­dro Plan, os­ten­si­bly to cut elec­tric­ity rates by 25 per cent, is a case in point.

She im­posed this plan on elec­tric­ity con­sumers de­spite re­peated warn­ings from gov­ern­ment staff it was fi­nan­cially reck­less.

Wynne had no con­vinc­ing re­sponse in ex­plain­ing her de­ci­sion, other than that she sin­cerely thought what she was do­ing was best.

This de­spite pre­vi­ous tes­ti­mony from se­nior civil ser­vants and the con­tents of cab­i­net-level brief­ing notes, warn­ing the Lib­er­als elec­tric­ity con­sumers would have to pay back an es­ti­mated $4 bil­lion more in un­nec­es­sary in­ter­est pay­ments.

To keep the bor­row­ing for the Fair Hy­dro Plan from show­ing up on the prov­ince’s books, the Lib­er­als con­signed it to On­tario Power Gen­er­a­tion, ex­pos­ing elec­tric­ity con­sumers to greater fi­nan­cial risks.

Staff warn­ings could not have been clearer.

Here’s a formerly con­fi­den­tial brief­ing note to Wynne and her cab­i­net:

“It is likely that ex­ter­nal bor­row­ing by the OPG Trust would be at a higher in­ter­est cost than provin­cial bor­row­ing costs, which would af­fect the car­ry­ing costs that would need to be re­cov­ered from ratepay­ers.”

The doc­u­ment also warned Wynne and her cab­i­net they would have no way to con­trol elec­tric­ity prices and pri­vate lenders would likely re­quire a gov­ern­ment back­stop.

Staff warned the au­di­tor gen­eral might refuse to give an un­qual­i­fied rat­ing to the prov­ince’s books head­ing into the 2018 elec­tion, which is what later hap­pened.

A for­mer Supreme Court jus­tice ad­vised Wynne and Co. there was a “moder­ately high risk” they would lose in court if crit­ics of their Fair Hy­dro Plan chal­lenged it, ar­gu­ing it was a tax in­stead of a fee.

Wynne replied she de­cided her plan was the fairest way of spread­ing the costs for up­grad­ing On­tario’s elec­tric­ity in­fra­struc­ture be­tween present and fu­ture gen­er­a­tions, and that ev­ery­thing she did was in the open. We agree it wasn’t done in se­cret. Rather, it was done by hid­ing in plain sight the true state of the prov­ince’s deficit.

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