TORONTO — Newly released public documents show the Ontario government paid consultants and lawyers $6.5 million to advise them on the sale of a Crown agency that sold for only $6 million. The documents show the Liberal government lost $61 million when it sold Ontera, the telecommunications arm of the Ontario Northland Corporation, to Bell Aliant. The Public Accounts report states "a loss on disposal of shares of Ontera" of almost $61 million and that the "the government provided a one-time contribution of $52,092,000 to support the sale" of the Crown corporation. Vic Federi, the finance critic for the Progressive Conservatives, calls Ontario's Liberals a "laughing stock" for selling Ontera for only $6 million after doling out more money to have lawyers and consultants tell them how to proceed. Fedeli says the Liberal government cannot justify what he calls an insulting and outrageous loss on a Crown asset, and says it calls the party's credibility into question. He adds the deal is chilling given that the Liberals intend to privatize Hydro One to raise an estimated $9 billion. Northern Development Minister Michael Gravelle admits there were short-term costs associated with the sale of Ontera, but insists they were outweighed by the cost of continued ownership of the agency. After shutting down the heavily subsidized passenger rail service run by the Ontario Northland Transportation Corporation in 2012, the Liberals announced they would sell the Crown corporation. But they changed their minds after the auditor general warned a sale could cost up to $820 million, rather than saving $260 million over three years as the Liberals hoped, and decided to sell only Ontera. The publicly owned ONTC still provides passenger bus services, plus freight transportation in northeastern Ontario and northwestern Quebec along its 1,100-kilometre rail system.
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