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New report finds Toronto Hydro privatization will hurt consumers

The Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives has released a new report that shows the City of Toronto, its residents and energy ratepayers will suffer in the event that the utility is fully or partially privatized.

The report, entitled Private Sector Gain, Consumer Pain, looks at a wide range of criteria from cost and reliability to public policy setting and the strength of the regulatory environment to protect consumers. It found that “the rationale for selling partial control over this public asset doesn’t hold” and that “Toronto residents will end up paying the price in the long term.”

Among the key issues addressed by author Sheila Block is the common refrain from privatization advocates that the Ontario Energy Board will protect consumers from greedy investors. Citing the Mowat Centre’s recent analysis of the shortcomings of the rate-setting process, Block calls this line “a willfully naïve interpretation of a complex regulatory process.”

Society President Scott Travers and Toronto Hydro LVP Henry Quach are among the union’s representatives that contributed to Block’s research for the report.

Last spring, Toronto City Council asked for a report investigating hydro privatization to pay for infrastructure while earlier this fall Mayor John Tory expressed his support for “unlocking the value” of Toronto Hydro – a common euphemism for privatization.

The Society began a campaign to stop this privatization over the summer and has integrated its efforts with the Our Hydro campaign, a coalition of community and labour groups opposed to privatization. Members are encouraged to send a message to Toronto City Hall opposing the sell-off by visiting OurHydro.ca. On November 22, Our Hydro and The Society unveiled new ads to persuade the public to contact their city councillor. The Society produced a video ad called Don’t Lose Your Power.

In recent weeks, the news media has exposed a concerted effort from Toronto Hydro to build the case for its own privatization. Following its retention of two senior operatives from Mayor John Tory’s 2014 election campaign, the Toronto Star found that senior Toronto Hydro staff held briefings with some Toronto City Councillors using “torqued” information to underscore the need for privatization.

Toronto Hydro’s board of directors also announced that it would be slashing its dividend for 2017 to the minimum amount permitted under its shareholder agreement with its sole shareholder, the City of Toronto. This was viewed as a move to quash the argument that all of the dividends are required to pay for popular public services like transit, libraries and parks.

At its last meeting, Toronto City Council confirmed former Tory MPP David McFadden, an energy lawyer with a long history of advocacy in favour of privatization, as chair of Toronto Hydro’s board of directors.