Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Ontario Liberal Government Announces Panel to Review Public Assets for Privatization

April 16, 2014

On April 11, the Liberal government announced that it will sell public assets it currently owns while establishing an expert panel to look at ways to "improve efficiency and optimize the full value of Hydro One, Ontario Power Generation (OPG), and the Liquor Control Board of Ontario (LCBO)." The announcement was made by Finance Minister/former Royal Bank of Canada executive Charles Sousa while speaking to the Economic Club in Toronto.

Sousa announced that the government would sell the LCBO headquarters and possibly the OPG building in Toronto. It also plans to sell its shares in GM which it acquired in the 2009 bailout of the auto company. Sousa said: "those are things that we can start moving on more quickly."

The advisory council was announced as the Liberal government also confirmed that the next austerity/pay-the-rich budget would be tabled on May 1-- International Day of Working Class Solidarity. This means that a provincial election may also have to be called shortly if the budget does not pass.

The Finance Minister said that the money raised would be used to pay for the government's infrastructure projects. "The Council will look to sweat the income statements so we can reinvest in public infrastructure projects that will create jobs and grow the economy," he said. The Liberal government had previously announced that it would clarify how it would pay for transit and infrastructure projects in the budget, with Premier Wynne saying that the "revenue tools" to do so would not include new taxes. In this way, the Wynne government is trying to make the issue into a debate about whether taxes should increase or whether public assets will need to be sold to pay for transit and infrastructure. It serves to distract from the fact that the Wynne government has been put in place to deliver more pay-the-rich schemes, including to the infrastructure monopolies that will make big scores.

The advisory council will look at ways "to get more value out of key public assets," particularly Hydro One, OPG, and the LCBO, Sousa said. The government's website refers to efficient governance, growth strategies, corporate reorganization, mergers, acquisitions, and public-private partnerships as ways this will be done.

Sousa commented on the panel's mandate, using the Liberals' bogus notion of "balance," saying that government ownership would be preferred but at the same time saying: "I'm not going to preclude what their recommendations will be, but they're going to assess what's the best use of those assets, and who should own them." He also said that some decisions require greater care and "we need experts to ensure that we protect the interests of Ontarians." He did not explain why the experts chosen were experts in privatization, however this clearly shows the real aims of the review. 

The PCs responded by taking credit for the Liberals' proposal saying they had proposed the same idea in 2012 but were ignored by the government. The NDP meanwhile said that it would not support any privatization of public assets.

Sousa's comments serve as another example of the disinformation used to steer people into a debate over which type of privatization they should accept. The fact is that the Liberals are continuing the implementation of privatization of the public authority as governments before them did, particularly in the cases of Hydro One, OPG and the LCBO, with the narrow aim of opening up new areas for the rich to make big scores, by first buying up public assets and then being paid back those funds to carry out publicly-financed private infrastructure projects (public-private partnerships). The aim is to implement this agenda under the guise of "efficiencies" which means more austerity for the working people in the form of attacks on their wages, working conditions and job security and taking money out of the public purse to pay the rich. This will only make the situation worse for Ontarians and the economy.

The aim is also to silence the workers' opposition in any way possible, including through the use of so-called expert panels which are said to represent the public good. However, this disinformation is being rejected at every turn. Just as when teachers and education workers along with many others refused to accept the fraud of austerity when it came from the mouth of TD banker Don Drummond when he headed up the Commission on the Reform of Ontario's Public Services in 2012, such a fraud to privatize public assets will be rejected now.

Working people should go all out to deny the Liberals and PCs the impression each seeks that their programs meet the approval of the people. Their destruction of the public authority to make the rich richer is unacceptable.