Ford defends push for changes at Hydro One, criticizes Avista deal

Ontario Premier Doug Ford is defending his government’s moves to make changes to the senior ranks of Hydro One after U.S. regulators rejected the utility’s proposed takeover of an American company over concerns of political interference.

Avista, Hydro One, Doug Ford
Doug Ford is defending his government’s interference in Hydro One. Photo by Bruce Reeve via Flickr Commons.

Ford says his Progressive Conservatives are working to bring hydro rates down for Ontario residents, something he says the now-scuttled $6.7 billion deal would not have achieved.

“Our government ran on a clear promise to clean up the mess at Hydro One,” he said in a statement issued Thursday morning. “This included a firm commitment to renew the Hydro One senior leadership that had lost the confidence of Ontario ratepayers.”

Washington State regulators rejected Hydro One Ltd.’s proposed takeover of Avista Corp on Wednesday, citing political interference in the utility by the provincial government, which is company’s largest shareholder.

The regulators pointed to Ford’s move to force the Hydro One chief executive to retire as proof that the province was willing to intervene in business operations.

Mayo Schmidt’s early retirement was quickly followed by the resignation of the utility’s entire board, as well as downgrades and lower values of Hydro One and Avista shares.

Ford noted that Schmidt and the former board were the architects of the Avista deal.

“This is a deal that was put together by the former board and former CEO of Hydro One – a deal that did nothing to lower hydro rates for Ontario residents,” he said. “Our government remains unwavering in our commitment to the people of Ontario to reduce hydro rates and provide a reliable energy system.”

The province’s opposition parties blamed the Ford government for the deal falling through.

NDP legislator Ian Arthur said the decision from the Washington Utilities and Transportation Commission “makes it clear that Doug Ford’s political meddling has sent shockwaves through the business community and increased the risk of doing business in Ontario.”

Liberal Mitzie Hunter said the message to Ford should be clear: “stop meddling at Hydro One.”

Avista and Hydro One filed a joint application with the commission in September 2017 to approve the proposed merger agreement.

Avista would have become a wholly owned subsidiary of the Toronto-based electric transmission and distribution utility, but would maintain its corporate headquarters in Spokane and continue to operate under the same name, management team and employee structure.

Hydro One, which is 47 per cent owned by the Ontario government, had assured U.S. regulators that the province would be a passive investor and would not exert political pressure on the company.

The Ontario utility was partially privatized in November 2015, and by December 2017 the province had sold off 53 per cent of its stake.

The former Liberal government said privatization would raise $9 billion to fund transit and infrastructure projects.

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