TORONTO – Ontario’s opposition parties accused the Liberal government Tuesday of contempt of parliament for giving some workers shares in Hydro One before its sale has been approved by the legislature.
The Liberals plan to sell 60 per cent of Hydro One to raise $9 billion, $5 billion of which would go to pay down debt while the remaining $4 billion would fund public transit projects.
The New Democrats pounced on reports the government reached tentative agreements with workers at Hydro One and Ontario Power Generation that would give them shares in Hydro One as part of their compensation.
Premier Kathleen Wynne never mentioned selling Hydro One during last year’s election, and has no business giving out shares before a bill is passed allowing the utility to be sold, said NDP Leader Andrea Horwath.
“The premier says that selling Hydro One is the only way to pay for transit and infrastructure, but she’s just given away the very first shares in Hydro One and it won’t put a nickel into infrastructure or transit,” said Horwath. “She doesn’t have the right to sweeten a collective agreement with shares that do not exist.”
The Progressive Conservatives said there are “questionable political ethics” involved in transferring shares before Hydro One is actually sold. People have a right to know the value of the shares given to the Power Workers’ Union, but the Liberals won’t divulge any details, said PC energy critic John Yakabuski.
“You are taking value away from the public, giving it to the Power Workers’ Union as part of a collective agreement and not telling the public what the actual value of it is,” he said. “Whatever value they’re going to realize in a potential sale has got to be less than it otherwise would have been.”
Energy Minister Bob Chiarelli refused to talk about giving shares in Hydro One to utility workers before enabling legislation has passed.
“It’s a net zero contract and there are a lot of interconnected terms, and I’m not at liberty to speak about what’s in the contract at this point,” he said.
The government said it wasn’t in contempt because a previous Speaker of the legislature ruled a government can take “reasonable planning measures” in advance of a bill’s passage.
Wynne also fired back at the NDP’s claim that the Liberals didn’t mention selling Hydro One during last year’s election.
The Liberals campaigned on a plan to review Crown assets to help fund $130 billion in infrastructure spending over 10 years, said Wynne, as she accused Horwath of running on essentially the same platform in 2014.
“We ran on that. She ran on that,” said Wynne. “We are implementing the plan that we ran on.”
Horwath fumed that Wynne was “pushing a privatization agenda” that will drive up Ontario’s already high electricity rates, and didn’t consult the public on the Hydro One sale.
“No matter how hard she protests, she knows darn well she did not run on this plan, and everybody knows it,” said Horwath. “Why is the premier ramming through a plan that’s bad for Ontarians without even asking them what they think?”
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