Highway 407 debacle looms over Hydro One sell-off – by Martin Regg Cohn (Toronto Star – April 16, 2015)

The Toronto Star has the largest circulation in Canada. The paper has an enormous impact on federal and Ontario politics as well as shaping public opinion.

How can the Liberals credibly persuade the province to try another hydro hopscotch?

A Hydro One sell-off will be a tough sell for Kathleen Wynne. As it has been for every other premier making a similar sales pitch.

Wynne’s Liberal predecessor, Dalton McGuinty, ultimately had second thoughts about putting hydro utilities on the market in 2010. A Progressive Conservative government also abandoned a sale in 2002. Hanging over any hydro sale are memories of the botched Highway 407 fire sale, which enriched foreign investors and infuriated Ontarians.

Now, after all that renouncing and denouncing of privatizing, can the governing Liberals credibly reverse course? How do they persuade the rest of the province to try another hydro hopscotch?

For Thursday’s announcement, Wynne is getting political cover from a panel of outside experts that includes ex-politicians of the left and right, headed by ex-TD Bank CEO Ed Clark (himself a former federal deputy minister).

The panel’s diversified composition is a counterpoint to the forces of ideology and personality that drove ex-PC premier Mike Harris to begin dismantling Ontario Hydro nearly two decades ago. Indeed, the Liberal government’s declared bias, when it set up the privatization commission last year, was to “give preference to owning rather than selling core assets.”

Today, the sale is being driven by money, not ideology: A lack of cash to bankroll new investments. And a newfound flexibility on principles.

Rather than hailing any expected windfall from the proceeds of sale, the emphasis is on what the money will buy — investing in roads and subways, not balancing the budget (avoiding additional debt is a subtext).

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