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If The Wynne Government Can Privatize Hydro One, Even Though It Will Drive Up Costs For Ontario Residents And Businesses, What’s Next?…

Posted: October 30, 2015

(October 30, 2015)

By Natalie Mehra, Niagara At Large

(Natalie Mehra and the non-profit activist group she directs may be familiar to people in Niagara, Ontario who have lobbied to save hospital services across this region. She and members of the OHA have made numerous visits to Niagara in recent years to support residents in their struggle to keep community hospitals operating.)

Toronto, Ontario, October 30th, 2015 – After twenty years on the front lines of the movement to protect our public health care in Ontario, perhaps I should be more jaded.

But when I read the headlines today announcing the mulish determination of Kathleen Wynne and her government to sell off Hydro One despite all reason, despite overwhelming public opposition and the antimony of both the Conservatives and the NDP, despite expert assessments warning of higher costs, and regardless of the fact that it is privatization of the management of our electricity grid for goodness sake — I almost can’t believe it.

We should all be up in arms.

If Wynne is willing to give away public hydro what will she not privatize?

If I seem angry, that’s because Wynne ran an entire election campaign on investing in public services, not cutting them. She’s supposed to be better than this. She never once mentioned forcing through the largest privatization in Ontario’s history.

She has no mandate. None.

Not for this. And not for what she has been doing to the health care system.

So far, this government seems hell-bent on dismantling public hospitals too. No amount of evidence that the cuts have gone too far moves them. Not gridlocked hospitals with patients suffering the indignity of lying on stretchers for days in hallways. Not patients discharged at all hours of the day or night though they are practically at death’s door.

And while we’ve stymied the government’s attempt to cut wholesale all the surgeries, all outpatient clinics, and diagnostics from Ontario’s hospitals and contract them out to private clinics (thanks to the intervention of a fairly progressive Health Minister, I think) we still have a long way to go to stop it fully.

Every week I hear of more private clinics doing hospital work. At the health coalition we are inundated daily with stories from patients who are compelled to pay hundreds or even thousands of dollars in unlawful user fees at these clinics.

But I digress.

This week, the Financial Accountability Officer for the Ontario Legislature warned in a report that the province will be in worse economic shape after the Hydro-One sell off.

He said that the money the province will get for the privatization scheme is nowhere near what they projected, and that it may well end up increasing the province’s debt, not reducing it. This, after recent weeks of news reports that the salary of Hydro One CEO has swelled to more than $1.3 million since the Wynne government’s privatization, and may go as high as $4 million per year.

Premier Wynne’s response? A determined, “It’s going…”

It may increase the provincial debt and we are all going to pay more for hydro, but she’s selling off Hydro One regardless.

It is the same damn-the-torpedoes attitude she showed in response to the Ontario Auditor General’s report that gave evidence that Ontario’s privatized P3 schemes – mostly privatized P3 hospitals – have cost Ontarians $8 billion more than if the infrastructure was funded publicly with proper management.

Ms. Wynne didn’t even bat an eye.

As we’re all told that we have to tighten our belts, the privatized P3s are forging full steam ahead. The investors (like the big banks and multinational finance firms, not incidentally — note below when you come to Ed Clark) are laughing all the way to the bank while we watch our local hospitals getting eviscerated.

For Hydro One, the government is claiming that they will take the proceeds and use them to build transportation infrastructure. The pretense is that Hydro One and Public Transportation Infrastructure are like a teeter totter. We have to cut funds from one to raise them for the other. There is, according to this framing of the issues, no other conceivable way to raise funds for transit and roads.

(What about an “Ontario Moves” public transportation bond-issue? Where are the optional tax proposals priced-out and compared to the apparent no-benefit high-risk sell-off of Hydro One?)

For Kathleen Wynne, apparently the expertise of the Legislature’s Financial Accountability Officer has nothing on TD Financial’s Ed Clark.

Clark, the so-called financial “guru” – a horrible misappropriation of that term — who came up with the sell-off scheme, is, not-so-incidentally, the father of Bert Clark, the CEO of Infrastructure Ontario (the privatized P3 arm in the Ontario government).

Bert (son) will be in charge of the Hydro One sale. How cozy.

Ed Clark (father), like Don Drummond before him, and like all the boatloads of consultants and experts that they use to justify hospital cuts, is the front-man, in place to provide “expert” cover for the privatization plan.

And while we will all pay more for hydro, along with every local business and some big ones as well, Bay Street loves the hydro privatization scheme. Go figure.

Wynne’s message is clearly designed to end the debate….It’s happening, no matter what we think.

But what if we refused to just let her get away with it? What if every single one of us called our local MPP over the weekend and told them, just one line: “Do everything in your power to stop the sell-off of Hydro One. I will be watching and I will vote on it come the next election.”?

What if we really did that? What if we all demanded a referendum? After all we are supposed to be the owners of Hydro One.

Maybe it would amount to nothing. But it will certainly help make sure that they don’t think they can get away with these things easily.

I, for one, cannot just sit back and watch this happen.

If they can get away with privatizing Hydro One, I shudder to think what they’ll think they can do to our hospitals.

Natalie Mehra, Executive Director – Ontario Health Coalition

P.S. Here’s the list of your MPPs. I’m calling mine right now. I hope you call yours. http://www.ontla.on.ca/lao/en/getting-involved/contact-an-mpp/

 To learn more about the Ontario Health Coalition and its advocacy work visithttp://www.ontariohealthcoalition.ca/

Visit Niagara At Large at www.niagaraatlarge.com for more news and commentary for and from the greater bi-national Niagara region.

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