BUSINESS

Speaker rules Liberals not in contempt to give power workers shares in Hydro One

05/07/2015 02:01 EDT | Updated 05/07/2016 05:59 EDT
TORONTO - The Speaker of the Ontario legislature says the Liberals did not violate the privilege of members and was not in contempt of parliament when it negotiated deals to give workers shares in Hydro One before the utility's sale is approved.

The government refuses to divulge any details of the tentative contracts reached with the Power Workers' Union at both Hydro One and Ontario Power Generation until the deals are ratified. The union also declines comment.

But a copy of the Hydro One deal obtained by The Canadian Press shows the workers will get shares in the electricity transmission utility equal to 2.7 per cent of their base pay every year from 2017 until 2028.

New Democrat Gilles Bisson says the tentative deals undermine the authority of the legislature by presuming legislation will pass, which he insists is a breach of privilege and contempt, a position supported by the Progressive Conservatives.

But Speaker Dave Levac rejected the privilege argument Thursday by ruling "there is no indication that anyone's freedom of speech has been compromised by virtue of anything that has happened, or been said, inside or outside the House."

Levac also ruled there was no case for contempt because negotiating contracts that gave workers shares in Hydro One was "normal planning that effective organizations would be expected to engage in.

"Presumably if the legislation does not pass these arrangements will not be implemented," added Levac.

Interim Progressive Conservative Leader Jim Wilson said the Speaker was "off base" in his rulings.

"They're moving ahead without any legislative foundation whatsoever, without any permission from the people of Ontario and without any debate here in the legislature, and it shouldn't be allowed," said Wilson

The Liberals announced last month they intended to sell 60 per cent of Hydro One, which they predicted would raise about $9 billion, $4 billion of which would be used for public transit projects and the rest to pay down hydro debt.

The opposition parties complain the Liberals never mentioned they would sell Hydro One during last year's election campaign, and warned that privatizing it will drive up Ontario's already high electricity rates for everyone.

"People don't remember hearing about this plan because there isn't a single Liberal MPP who ran on selling Hydro One," said NDP Leader Andrea Horwath. "The premier's plan helps out Bay Street bankers, it helps out consultants, it helps out well-connected Liberals."

Deputy Premier Deb Matthews said the Liberals did campaign on their pledge to review government assets to help fund a 10-year, $130 billion infrastructure plan, but she never acknowledged that they never mentioned selling Hydro One.

"We ran on building infrastructure, and that is what we are going to do," Matthews told the legislature.

Horwath said, however, that giving potentially hundreds of millions of dollars in shares to power workers without knowing their true value means none of that money will go to fund transit projects as the Liberals' claim,.

"The value of those shares, whatever it's pegged at, is not going to go into infrastructure and it's not going into transit," she said.

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