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Hydro's golden words Add to ...

The written word is devalued no more. Michael Gourley, an in-sider with Ontario's former Conservative government, received $105,000 from Crown-owned Hydro One in an untendered contract, and the only written record of his work is a one-page e-mail. For that price, you might expect T.S. Eliot. But no, there was no "patient etherized upon a table" in this prosaic message. Not unless you count the taxpayer, from whose helpless form all those dollars were removed.

And many more besides. In all, Hydro One, which owns Ontario's electrical transmission system, paid a handful of Tory insiders $5.6-million in untendered contracts for advice on how to privatize the public utility. The Globe's Martin Mittelstaedt has now managed to obtain, through freedom-of-information requests, copies of the work that Hydro received in return. For those who care about how public policy is made, these pages offer a cynic's tour on the inside.

Much of it is delicious. Paul Rhodes, who had been communications director for Tory premier Mike Harris, offered Sir Graham Day, then Hydro's chairman, this advice on dealing with Mr. Harris: "Stroke MDH so that GD is perceived to be giving him an endorsement and credibility and not coming in to tell him how to do his job. Suggestions: The world is watching MDH approach to government." And Mr. Harris is "the first premier to grab Hydro problems and do something about it." Lesson one in how to manipulate the vain and powerful: Flattery works. Mr. Rhodes received $335,000 over 18 months for 81 pages, including e-mails. That's $4,135 a page, or $8.27 a word assuming 500 words a page. More ether, please!

Leslie Noble, co-chair of the party's election campaign last year, had some ideas on how Hydro One could get its message out. Under the heading "Message Delivery Vehicles," she included "social invitations to build friendly relations." So those hockey boxes, golf games and hunting trips (remember how Hydro One's former chairman took some influential Conservatives on a $750-a-day retreat?) are actually Message Delivery Vehicles. A bicycle courier would be a lot cheaper, but perhaps less effective.

Ms. Noble also profiled Ontario's cabinet: who stood where and whom the influential ones listen to. Ernie Eves, Mr. Harris's successor, was said to listen to the aforementioned Mr. Gourley, Isabel Bassett (Mr. Eves's spouse) and the media. (Gosh, if only we had known what influence we possessed!) Of cabinet minister Chris Stockwell, Ms. Noble said the "best way to manage [him]is to make it dangerous ground, by showing he is out of his depth." (If flattery works on the powerful, insults will do wonders with the weak.) Mike Harris "lacks [a]broader privatization context." In other words, he too was out of his depth, though it didn't stop him from getting his own consulting work indirectly from Hydro One, just months after he had stepped down as premier.

Weren't the people who received those contracts the very ones behind Mr. Harris's Common Sense Revolution, which proclaimed Ontario's Conservatives to be unlike any other government, not fat and smug and full of themselves but rather flinty-eyed and thrifty? Weren't the people in charge of Hydro One put in place by the Conservative government, the same government that imposed a lifetime ban on welfare cheats?

Cheating is a strong word. It's reserved for such things as the sponsorship scandal in Ottawa, where $100-million disappeared into Liberal-friendly ad agencies. And Hydro One's consulting payouts are so different. Aren't they?

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