CUPE sues province in bid to block Hydro One sale
Keith Leslie, The Canadian Press
Published Wednesday, September 14, 2016 10:50AM EDT
Last Updated Wednesday, September 14, 2016 2:43PM EDT
TORONTO -- The Canadian Union of Public Employees is suing the Ontario government over the privatization of Hydro One, the province's electricity transmission monopoly.
"The principal reason for filing this suit is to stop them from selling additional shares in our hydro system," said CUPE president Fred Hahn. "Our goal with this lawsuit is to protect the people of Ontario and the ratepayers of Hydro One."
The union said it served the Ministry of the Attorney General with a notice of intent to sue Premier Kathleen Wynne, Finance Minister Charles Sousa and former Energy Minister Bob Chiarelli for malfeasance.
CUPE claims the Liberals inappropriately mixed government and party business by holding expensive fundraisers with cabinet ministers, including one $7,500 a ticket event with Sousa and Chiarelli that was attended by bankers who profited from the sale of Hydro One.
"We can't speak directly to the specifics of the case, but all of the documents will be accessible to the public when we file in court after the 60-day notice period is over," said Hahn.
Premier Kathleen Wynne defended the decision to sell up to 60 per cent of the utility, saying the money raised is needed to fund the Liberals' $160-billion, 12-year program to modernize public transit and infrastructure across the province.
"Those investments have to come from somewhere, and that's why we're making the changes on Hydro One," she said. "We're using an asset to leverage funding for a new asset that will be owned by the people of Ontario."
Energy Minister Glenn Thibeault said he can't comment on a lawsuit that's before the courts, but insisted the Liberals did nothing wrong with their fundraisers, even though the government now prohibits ministers from attending such events.
"The integrity commissioner has already looked into this and recently confirmed that there was no wrongdoing," Thibeault told the legislature.
Commissioner J. David Wake ruled last month that Sousa and Chiarelli may have benefited politically by attending the fundraiser with bankers involved with the privatization of Hydro One, but they didn't contravene the Members' Integrity Act.
But he also said the legislature should consider clarifying the law to include the apparent conflicts of interest, not just actual ones.
The province, which hopes to raise $9 billion from the partial privatization of Hydro One, raised $3.8 billion from the sale of 30 per cent, and booked a gain of $3 billion from a deferred tax asset benefit and a special payment in lieu of taxes.
The Progressive Conservatives tried to force Wynne to admit she was behind the Liberals' fundraising efforts.
"Will the premier reprimand these ministers for crossing an ethical line, or will she admit that they were acting on her own orders when they used the very unpopular Hydro One sale to bankroll for the Liberal Party of Ontario," asked PC hydro critic Todd Smith during question period.
The New Democrats said the CUPE lawsuit is another shot across the Liberal bow to try to stop the sale of Hydro One, which also serves as a local electricity distribution company for 1.3 million homes in remote and rural parts of Ontario.
"Everyone knows the public doesn't want it sold off, and this is another way to send that strong message to the government," said NDP Leader Andrea Horwath.
CUPE successfully sued the previous Progressive Conservative government to stop its sale of Ontario Hydro, which the Tories broke up into several different companies, including Ontario Power Generation and Hydro One, added Hahn.
"The challenge we have is that immediately after we stopped that sale, Ernie Eves, who was then the premier, changed the wording of the law," he said. "And the Liberal government -- in power for 13 years -- has never changed that wording back to protect our public hydro system."