Budget passing sets stage for Hydro One sale
Ontario NDP Leader Andrea Horwath and her caucus turn their backs to show their disapproval after the Ontario Liberal government passes a budget bill on Wednesday June 3 2015 that paves the way for the partial sale of Hydro One. (Toronto Sun/Antonella Artuso)
The Kathleen Wynne government leaped the last major legislative hurdle in front of the controversial partial sell-off of Hydro One.
On Wednesday, the majority Liberal government passed the 2015 budget bill, which allows for the sale of up to 60% of the publicly owned entity, starting with a 15% stake.
“The passage of this budget reaffirms the steps that will be taken in order to broaden the ownership of Hydro One and reinvest some of the proceeds into infrastructure,” Finance Minister Charles Sousa said shortly after the vote. “I’m pleased that we’re taking a long-term view ... that builds our economy, creates jobs.”
As a sign of their strong opposition, NDP Leader Andrea Horwath and her caucus stood with their backs turned to the government as they voted against the budget bill.
“She’s the only premier in the history of this province that has to sell off our essential public asset, Hydro One, in order to invest in infrastructure and transportation,” Horwath said. “We’re going to continue to pressure the government.”
The NDP leader has scheduled a media conference for Thursday to demand a public referendum on Hydro One’s future.
Horwath urged Ontarians to make their voices heard if they want to keep Hydro One in public hands.
“I would hope that this premier doesn’t see herself as a dictator and instead sees herself as a leader of a province that is still a democracy,” Horwath said. “And that she actually listens to the people of Ontario.”
Progressive Conservative finance critic Vic Fedeli said the Tories tried to show the Liberal government the “folly” of a Hydro One fire sale, but it refused to entertain any of their legislative amendments to mitigate the damage.
“It’s all because they’re broke,” Fedeli said. “We have a $10.5-billion deficit and this is all about selling hydro to restore the coffers.”
While the Wynne government has stated that $4 billion from the sale will be used to fund infrastructure improvements such as new transit or roads, the Tories argue that the manoeuvre is a “shell game” to balance the budget.
The main effect of the budget on average Ontarians will be felt in hydro bills, as the government takes money out of the electricity system through the Hydro One deal, Fedeli said.
“Of course, they’re going to collect $100 million from a new beer tax, the aviation fuel tax will go up for those who can still afford to fly in Ontario,” he said. “Where you’ll really feel it is that your hydro bill is going to go up.”