Ford’s risky shortcuts
Ah, the omnibus bill. It’s a majority government’s expedient way of rushing through a hodgepodge of new laws without taking time for proper debate.
In Ontario, Premier Doug Ford used this convenient tactic to cancel a multimillion-dollar wind-power project, while at the same time bringing “accountability” to Hydro One and, as a final flourish, send striking York University teachers back to class.
These disparate plans are rolled into one new law, called Bill 2: Urgent Priorities Act. While the government was right to end the months-long strike and allow York students to get back to their studies, its hasty meddling in the operations of two large businesses risks future investment in Ontario.
The problem with the omnibus bill is that democracy does not have its day. If Ford’s priorities were formed on the campaign trail, they were passed into law in the legislature without committee hearings that inevitably include pointed questions from opposition MPPs, stakeholders and the public.
Without those pesky consultations, requiring detailed research and thoughtful answers, decisions are made absent a broader, reasoned perspective. That’s never a good plan for governing, or for business.
Already, critics are warning that two items in the Urgent Priorities Act will harm Ontario’s global investment reputation.
The act allows Ford to cancel the unpopular White Pines Wind Project in Prince Edward County and also to demand “accountability” for Hydro One governance, leading to the sudden retirement of its CEO and resignation of its board of directors. Business analysts say the mass resignations have delayed Hydro One’s $3.4-billion acquisition of U.S. power supplier Avista Corp.
This kind of political meddling is rightly seen as unsettling to investors, who seek stability. It also undermines Ford’s mantra, “Ontario is open for business.”
As New Democrat MPP Gilles Bisson said in the legislature this week, the government “is really setting up a weird situation here: a Conservative government is telling the business community in Ontario and outside of this province that we are no longer a stable jurisdiction to do business in.” It is peculiar. The problem lies in the act’s blunt approach. It’s clear that wind turbines are not welcomed by many Ontarians, including those in Prince Edward County, where the White Pines Wind Farm is located. It wasn’t just Tanya Granic Allen, the one-time Tory leadership candidate who supported Ford for the PC leadership, who wanted to “rip them out of the ground.”
White Pines is owned by a German company that has invested, by its estimate, $100 million in the project. It has been operating in Ontario, with government approval, for 10 years and was close to completion. Now it’s dead and the Urgent Priorities Act has declared that the company cannot file legal action against the government, while at the same time placing limits on compensation for direct expenses.
Who would want to do business in a province that writes legislation like that?
As the Star’s Jennifer Wells writes, a letter to Ford from White Pines CEO Harmut Brosamle was both genteel and incredulous.
“A new elected government has any right to pursue a different energy policy,” Brosamle wrote. “That is a fundamental principle of democracy. But do you think, dear Premier, that it is fair and equitable that a project right before completion is now being ruined retroactively and that our company is suffering serious damage through no fault of its own? Your reconsideration would be greatly appreciated.”
Germany’s ambassador to Canada, Sabine Sparwasser, was not impressed. “That,” Sparwasser said, “is not a good story to tell.” Indeed. Given Hydro One’s enforced leadership uncertainty and the flat-out cancellation of the White Pines project, Ontario is now a cautionary tale.
These intrusions should be anathema to a Progressive Conservative government — unless it thrives on negative attention.
The act … undermines Ford’s mantra, “Ontario is open for business.”