POLITICS

Liberals to work out details on pension plan, Hydro One sale, teacher contracts

06/05/2015 02:27 EDT | Updated 06/05/2016 05:59 EDT
TORONTO - Ontario's Liberal government will spend the summer working out details on its new provincial pension plan and the sale of Hydro One, while also trying to head off possible teachers' strikes in the fall.

The Liberals passed legislation in the spring session that ended Thursday to create an Ontario Retirement Pension Plan for anyone who doesn't have a workplace pension, which the Progressive Conservatives, and business groups, warn amounts to "a job killing payroll tax."

The government must soon decide whether defined contribution pensions and group Registered Retirement Savings Plans offered by some employers are good enough to exempt them and their workers from the new Ontario plan.

Passage of the omnibus budget bill cleared the way for the sale of 60 per cent of Hydro One, the giant transmission utility that also serves as a local electricity distributor for 1.3 million customers.

The New Democrats plan public hearings this summer to drum up support to try to block the sale, or at least force the Liberals to first hold a referendum.

The government wants to proceed with a 15 per cent sale of the Hydro One by the end of the year, but first has to find a vendor for the initial public offering and determine a valuation for the shares.

"That process will proceed over the next number of months, issue the RFP, determine who the providers will be," said Finance Minister Charles Sousa.

The Liberals hope to raise $9 billion from selling 60 per cent of Hydro One, with $5 billion earmarked for hydro debt and $4 billion to fund public transit projects. But the opposition parties complained the enabling legislation removed virtually all public oversight from the utility and the sale process.

"We are very concerned we're not going to get fair value," said Progressive Conservative Leader Patrick Brown. "This is like having a real estate agent sell your house, but you don't want to know the price or the offers."

An expert panel headed by former TD Bank CEO Ed Clark, which recommended allowing beer sales in grocery stores, will report later this summer on other aspects of alcohol sales, triggering fears the LCBO could also be sold.

Clark recommended against selling the LCBO, which turns over $1.8 billion to the government before taxes, and Premier Kathleen Wynne has said it won't be privatized, but NDP Leader Andrea Horwath isn't convinced.

"That's what they said about Hydro One," said Horwath. "If they can say they're not going to sell Hydro and then turn around and sell it off, then they can just as easily say they're not going to sell off the LCBO and then turn around and sell that."

Horwath also expressed concern about the threat of more teachers' strikes in September.

"Families are worried about chaos in the education system, chaos that was created by this government," she said.

Problems at the new, two-tier level of negotiations with teachers, which has local and provincial talks, resulted in strikes at high schools in Durham, Peel and Sudbury and a work-to-rule campaign by some elementary teachers. The opposition parties are concerned the four large teachers' unions are talking about co-ordinated action if they don't have new contract agreements by September.

The government also faced public backlash and protests over its attempts to update Ontario's sex-education curriculum, with complaints it failed to consult enough parents, but Wynne vowed to proceed with its implementation this fall.

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