insideHALTON.com ~ Sept 15, 2015
Supplied Photo – Burlington Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Keith Hoey
The Burlington Chamber of Commerce has joined a coalition of 36 chambers of commerce and boards of trade from across Ontario calling on the provincial government to provide evidence that electricity prices will not increase as a result of the government’s decision to sell 60 per cent of Hydro One.
“Rising electricity prices are a collective concern and have put Ontario businesses at a competitive disadvantage,” Keith Hoey, president and CEO of the Burlington Chamber of Commerce, said in an Aug. 20 press release.
“It is important to recognize that electricity represents a significant cost to employers. As the government moves forward with the sale of Hydro One, it is essential that it works to ensure that business operation in Ontario remains affordable by containing electricity costs,” he said.
In a recent report by the Ontario Chamber of Commerce (OCC), entitled Empowering Ontario, it called for increased transparency from the provincial government on electricity and system costs.
The partial sale of Hydro One should be subject to a similar level of scrutiny, the provincial chamber contends.
“…. While we are cautiously optimistic about the sale, there are details that have yet to be determined. The Government of Ontario must ensure that any steps taken to pay down the debt do not adversely affect the cost of doing business in the province, including adding to the rising price of electricity….,” stated part of a letter that OCC President and CEO Allan O’Dette sent to Premier Kathleen Wynne on Aug. 20.
The OCC represents 60,000 businesses in Ontario.
Ontario Energy Minister Bob Chiarelli responded to the OCC’s letter the next day.
“….This is part of our plan to unlock the value of certain public assets to help support unprecedented investments in transit, transportation and other priority infrastructure projects through the Moving Ontario Forward plan. I was pleased to read in your letter that the OCC and its members endorse this plan, as it represents the largest infrastructure investment in Ontario’s history and will strengthen the economy and create thousands of jobs….” Chiarelli stated in his letter to O’Dette.
While the chambers agree with investment in infrastructure through the government’s Moving Ontario Forward plan, Hoey said they don’t endorse the sale of Hydro One.
“The OCC recognizes the sale will help pay down the debt and provide funds for investment in infrastructure, both good things,” Hoey told the Post.
“(But) The OCC is ‘cautiously optimistic’ about the sale. The Burlington chamber is not comfortable with the sale until we see concrete evidence that the sale will not result in higher electricity prices,” he added.
Back in May, eight officers of the legislature — including the province’s then Ombudsman André Marin — signed a statement calling on Premier Wynne to reverse plans to “significantly reduce” their oversight powers over Hydro One.
Deputy premier Deb Matthews said at the time that the change in oversight is necessary as the Liberal administration prepares to sell 60 per cent of Hydro One, raising $9 billion to pay down debt and fund more public transit.
“It is a different kind of oversight when it is a publicly-traded company,” said Matthews, noting the government will appoint an internal ombudsman at Hydro One, which will be subject to regulation by the Ontario Securities Commission.
In the short time since the release of the 2013 Long Term Energy Plan, industrial electricity rates have increased 16 per cent, and will increase another 13 per cent over the next five years, says the Ontario Chamber of Commerce.
According to a survey conducted by the OCC, 1-in-20 businesses will either shut their doors or move to another jurisdiction in the coming years due to rising hydro rates.
— with files from the Toronto Star