Ontario has a new premier...at least for now. Ms. Kathleen Wynne ran a solid campaign but it will remain to be seen whether she can elude or outsmart the booby traps carefully being set for her by the opposition parties.
In the mean time, there are some worrying signs. She was quick to assure Torontonians that their transportation problems and traffic gridlock needed to be sorted out pronto and that this would be a priority for her.
While I understand that Toronto is one of Ontario’s economic engines, it’s worrying that Wynne, who is herself a Torontonian, is so quick to get on this bandwagon with Mayor Ford. Perhaps she hasn’t figured out that most of Ontario has no public transportation system and that the provincial Liberals have been busy eviscerating one of the only northern transportation systems i.e. Ontario Northland.
No mention of that in any of her upbeat speeches.
She did, however, pat herself on the back for the provinces formation of school bus consortia - those massive transportation organizations that seem to function without transparency or meaningful dialogue with parents.
In fact, another kind of massive amalgamation is quietly in the works; namely forcing public utilities in municipalities to amalgamate into a huge provincial entity. Although some economies of scale can be achieved on the administration of power utilities it is also clear that there are some real negatives for local providers. Suddenly, you as the customer will be dealing with someone hundreds of miles away and given the way customer service is handled in today’s world, it would not surprise me if that service ended up in some third world country. You only have to try to wring customer service from one of the major telecommunication companies to understand how that works.
The next issue is that utility companies provide a much needed revenue stream that supports muåçnicipal budgets a not unimportant issue for ratepayers.
Beyond that is an even bigger issue - the fact that power companies belong to the citizens ofå the municipality. Why should municipalities be forced to sell off an asset that provides good local jobs, revenue and good service to its ratepayers?
The provincial report promoting amalgamation cites, among other points, things like a “graying population” unable to fill local jobs and aging infrastructure requiring investment as reasons for amalgamation.
It’s true that population in the north is aging more rapidly than the south and that it has not been very successful in keeping its young people at home. That doesn’t mean, however, that successful recruitment can’t happen, especially since utility jobs are good jobs that pay a decent salary. As for investment in infrastructure, there are many opportunities to diversify at a local level including creating “smart-grids” in local service areas. Encouraging local users to become micro-generators through wind and solar would also decrease dependence on long-distance transmission.
North Bay has already put the province on notice that they won’t give up their power company without a fight. Parry Sound and other local power providers will soon have to decide what side of the fence they are on as well.
Bigger is not always better.