By Colleen Butler

In April 2015, Premier Kathleen Wynne announced the Liberal majority government’s decision to sell Hydro One, Ontario’s publicly-owned electricity transmission and distribution utility. In June, the Liberal majority passed an omnibus bill—Bill 91—that enabled the provincial government to sell 60% of our public hydro system.

The Liberal government says it needs to sell Hydro One to fund infrastructure across the province. But Stephen LeClair, Ontario’s financial accountability officer, has reported that privatizing Hydro One will be more costly to the province in the long term than keeping it public. The sale of Hydro One will mean the forfeiture of a dependable revenue stream for the province and will lead to a spike in rates and a loss of public accountability. With less provincial revenue, we will have less money to spend on vital public services, leading to job losses in the public sector. Ontarians who are already struggling under the weight of their hydro bills will be unable to sustain for-profit rates. And there will be no recourse for citizens—Bill 91 removed public oversight of Hydro One from the 8 independent officers of the legislature, a slashing of powers protested by the same officers in a joint letter.

In response to the Liberal government’s unilateral decision to privatize Hydro One, CUPE Ontario, together with a coalition of labour, community, student, environmental, and anti-poverty groups, launched a campaign to Keep Hydro Public. Over the summer and into the fall, the coalition hosted community meetings, held rallies, mounted legal challenges, supported local direct actions, and spearheaded a province-wide lobbying effort that led to nearly 200 municipalities passing resolutions demanding that the province stop the sale of Hydro One.

Significantly, there has been strong opposition to hydro privatization across the political spectrum. Public opinion polls have shown that 83% of Ontarians are against hydro privatization. First Nations groups, municipal associations, and local chambers of commerce have all called on the province to carry out broad consultations before the sale. And both the NDP and PC Party have protested in the sale in the provincial legislature.

Despite mounting public opposition, the Liberal government sold 15% of shares in Hydro One in November. The successful privatization of Ontario’s public hydro system will open the door for the privatization of other public assets, from schools to water. As such, it is imperative that we fight even harder to keep the rest of Hydro One public.

The second phase of the Keep Hydro Public campaign, launched in February, is geared toward turning public opposition to the sale of Hydro One into focused political pressure. The campaign targets individual Liberal MPPs through leaflets, billboards, and other materials, demanding that they represent their constituents and speak out against hydro privatization. Hundreds of CUPE members and allies have turned out at campaign events in Peterborough and Scarborough, and more actions are being planned throughout the province.

If you would like to get involved with CUPE Ontario’s Keep Hydro Public campaign, contact Preethy Sivakumar at psivakumar@cupe.on.ca.

Credit photo: Lennart Maschmeyer