Ed Clark, the retired bank president and mastermind behind the privatization of Hydro One, has quietly moved to a new job advising Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne on business issues, including finding other revenue sources for the cash-strapped province, according to senior government sources.
The Liberal government is desperate for money and needs to meet strict targets laid out in its spring budget. It announced an $8.5-billion deficit this year, but has promised to decrease that to $4.8-billion next year and present a balanced budget for 2017-18.
The province has one of the largest subsovereign debts in the world.
There were no new revenue sources announced in the budget, so Mr. Clark will be trying to identify some. He is also looking at regulatory changes,such as his council's recommendation to allow the sale of beer in 450 grocery stores. This squeezed some more money out of the system and opened it up to small craft breweries.
Mr. Clark, 67, is the former chief executive of Toronto-Dominion Bank. His new role as the formal adviser to the Premier is to be officially announced soon. But one source says he has already started, focusing his efforts at the Ministry of Economic Development, Employment and Infrastructure, where he has bureaucrats searching for new sectors for investment.
Liberal governments in Ontario have a close relationship with TD bankers. Don Drummond, the former chief economist for TD, advised former premier Dalton McGuinty's government on harmonizing the provincial sales tax with the federal goods and services tax. Later, he was commissioned to do a major report on the province's finances.
Mr. Clark was appointed head of the Premier's Advisory Council on Government Assets in April, 2014. A year later, his council released its report, recommending that the government sell 60 per cent of Hydro One, which is estimated to earn $9-billion for the government. However, $5-billion of that will pay down debt and $4-billion is to go to transit.
But that's just a drop in the bucket, as Ms. Wynne has not only promised to balance the books but to spend $130-billion on transit and infrastructure.
It is not clear yet how Mr. Clark's new job is to be structured – whether he will have a mini-secretariat as he did when he worked on the review of the assets and work for free.
The government gave out $6.8-million in contracts to consultants to help Mr. Clark and his team with the privatization of Hydro One and also on how to get more money from the beer-retailing system. The NDP uncovered the payments through a freedom-of-information request and criticized the government for the expense. It is not clear what the consultants did and there was no explanation as to why the government didn't use public servants to advise the council.
Mr. Clark is well respected and influential. He has worked in the public service and also as an adviser to both federal and provincial Liberal leaders. His son, Bert Clark, is president and CEO of Infrastructure Ontario, the provincial Crown corporation that enters into partnerships with the private sector to build infrastructure.
It is clear that Ed Clark and Ms. Wynne have a lot of respect for each other.
In April, just after he delivered his assets sales report, he was honoured at the Public Policy Forum Dinner in Toronto. Ms. Wynne, who played host, praised his work, calling him "the wonderful Ed Clark."
"He knows the public sector," she said. "He knows the private sector and his knowledge and wisdom will be essential to our efforts to build Ontario up."
In his speech that night, he talked about the "huge paradox facing today's public service."
"Demand for government services is growing rapidly, driven in part by our aging population," he said. "But its capacity to act is constrained. A shrinking labour pool and, in turn, a slowing domestic economy are putting downward pressure on its revenue streams."
He said there was a growing divide between "what governments can afford to do and what they have promised to do." He suggested that the public service must be more creative.