By Doug Draper
Thing must be getting awfully desperate in Ontario when the provincial government has to consider selling off some of its richest public assets to grab some quick cash.
Yes, we know the province’s Liberal government is facing a record $24.7-billion deficit thanks to a combination of the Great Recession, a massive exodus of industry and its own fiscal mismanagement. But does that mean the government should hold a fire sale that could lead to assets like Ontario One, power generating facilities like Sir Adam Beck in Niagara Falls, the LCBO and others that rake in billions of dollars in revenue annually for the province, falling into private hands?
We’ve seen this movie in Ontario before with the Conservative government of Mike Harris pushing to privatize a number of public-owned assets, including a number of the province’s conservation parks. Fortunately, the Harris government’s plans to sell our parks and our power utilities were scuttled in a tidal wave of protest from Ontario citizens and others, including the now-governing Liberals. But it did manage to get away with selling Hwy. 407 in the greater Toronto area to a private consortium and motorists have been paying for it ever since with ridiculously high toll rates for this 67-mile-road that make the tolls for driving the entire 300-mile plus stretch of New York State Thruway between Buffalo and Albany seem like a Christmas gift.
As a representative for some of the employees working for the public corporations the McGuinty government is considering selling off now said to reporters in a recent interview – this is akin to someone throwing their furniture in their fireplace to keep their house warm.
It is a desperate, shortsighted way of dealing with a serious deficit problem in the province – one that Ontarians may regret for generations to come – and it has got to be stopped.
News that the McGuinty government is considering privatizing some of the province’s publicly owned Crown corporations appeared on the front page of the Wednesday, Dec. 16 edition of The Globe and Mail. The newspaper reported that the government has quietly hired two banks, CIBC World Markets Inc. and Goldman Sachs Group In., to develop a plan for such a sell-off.
Among the Crown corporations named in the Globe story were the Liquor Control Board of Ontario (known better to many of us as the LCBO) and the Ontario Lottery and Gaming Corp., responsible for selling all those lottery tickets in convenience stores.
Now some of you out there may argue that the sale of assets like the LCBO and lottery corporation makes sense and may be better for consumers, and if you feel that way don’t hesitate to state your views in the comment box below.
Take the case of the LCBO. Certainly there are some out there among us who believe we might get better service, a greater variety of wines and spirits on the shelves, and more discounts if these stores were in private hands. If there was any chance we’d end up with the same variety of stores that they have in states like New York and Massachusetts, where there is a multiplicity of owners who are competing with each other, that might be so.
But it is just as likely that the province could sell these stores to a single corporation that would then have a monopoly on the retail sale of all liquor and wine. If that’s the case there would be no competition and no incentive to lower prices or maintain the quality of service offered by the LCBO today.
The Globe article quoted bank sources saying there are “plenty of buyers” interested in possibly purchasing these Crown corporations, and why wouldn’t they be. The LCBO racked in about $1.4 billion in profits last year. These were profits that went to public coffers to pay for services in Ontario. There is nothing to stop a private owner from taking these profits and investing them in another country if they wish.
Furthermore, do we really want to turn our major energy facilities over to private hands? Do we really want to take the chance of losing public control of corporations that produce our energy? Can we trust private corporations to do a better job or give the consumer a better deal? Look at the recent performance records of private corporations like General Motors and Nortel.
And where will the fire sale end? What if the province gets desperate enough to put some of our provincial parks on the auction block? I’ll bet you the Short Hills Provincial Park, sprawling across the borders of Pelham, Thorold and St. Catharines, would command a pretty good price on the real-estate market. But how can you weigh that against the value of this great park as a natural area for the children of our region to enjoy for generations to come?
According to The Globe report, the provincial government wants to move forward with a possible sale of some of the province’s assets fairly quickly. One can only speculate as to the reason. Could it have something to do with a hope that the quick dollars it will take in will make the province’s books look a little better before the next election, now less than two years down the road?
The implications of what the province is considering doing here could be massive and even tragic for Ontario residents in the long run.
Surely there are other ways the province can control costs and generate revenue than selling away the store.
Contact your provincial member of parliament about this issue and let him or her know what you think before it is too late.
Here are the email addresses for Niagara’s MPPs: Jim Bradley, St. Catharines Riding, firstname.lastname@example.org, Kim Craitor, Niagara Falls Riding, email@example.com, Tim Hudak, Niagara West-Glanbrook Riding, firstname.lastname@example.org, and Peter Kormos, Niagara Centre Riding, email@example.com.