Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne went against her own political beliefs to privatize Hydro One, the massive utility company owned and controlled by her provincial government, says the former Bay Street banker who advised her on the sale.
But Ed Clark said he told Ms. Wynne she would pay a huge price if the Ontario government continued borrowing to finance new transit construction, adding to its massive debt.
"So you've got to make a choice," Mr. Clark, the former CEO of Toronto Dominion Bank, said he told the Premier. "And that's what she did. She made a choice and did something that was not natural for her, not natural for her party, not natural for her cabinet, and said, 'But in the end of the day, if we don't fix that, we won't have an economy that's strong enough …' "
Ms. Wynne formed Mr. Clark's panel last spring to find ways for the government to pay for new infrastructure.
In a discussion with The Globe and Mail's editorial board on Friday, Mr. Clark talked about the behind-the-scenes decision-making that led to Ms. Wynne's announcement this week that the government will sell 60 per cent of the huge utility. It is expected to earn an estimated $9-billion from the sale – $4-billion for a transit-building fund and $5-billion to pay down debt.
And he said that while he believes private companies are more efficient than those run by government, Ms. Wynne was only comfortable going so far – and put strict restraints on his panel as it considered what to recommend concerning Hydro One and the province's monopolistic beer market, which is in private hands, but regulated by the province. "This is a pretty big shift ideologically for this government," Mr. Clark said.
"This is not a government that ideologically comes and says, 'I love selling down public assets.' That's not where [Ms. Wynne] is coming from at all."
Mr. Clark characterized Hydro One as a "dead" company, bogged down and inefficient because of government red tape. But he said the Wynne government felt more secure keeping part of Hydro One than allowing it all to be sold. "This [the partial sale] itself is a huge step, and so it gives them comfort to say, 'Okay I am not selling it off … it will be a future government that may change its mind on it. Premier Wynne has said 'I am not doing that,' but she is also not saying she is going to be premier for 100 years."
He said he is "quite satisfied" with the approach.
Mr. Clark's candid comments about the restrictions his panel faced in how far it could go with its recommendations help explain why the province made only modest reforms to the beer retail system – allowing the Beer Store to keep much of its lucrative private monopoly even as 450 grocery stores will gain the right to sell beer.
The government opted not to eliminate the current system. In addition to allowing beer in grocery stores, the province will impose a beer tax to raise $100-million a year.
It will not allow beer to be sold in convenience stores, as it is in Quebec. Mr. Clark said Ms. Wynne vetoed that idea without consulting his panel. "Without asking us, she says, 'We're not doing this in convenience stores,'" he told The Globe's editorial board.
"Those are truly political discussions," Mr. Clark said. "We had a mandate to look at it and say, 'Here are your choices … We kept saying, 'What is doable for you?'"
She also wanted the province to continue to control prices so they would not be higher in rural areas than in downtown Toronto, which would have more stores and more competition. "That's what politicians do," he said. "They make those choices, and if the population says … 'I want to live in a society where I can buy beer at midnight,' [then] throw her out of office. That's not for me to decide."