Canada: Unions warn against electric company privatization

Sources: Canadian Centre for Policy AlternativesWinnipeg Free Press.

Privatizing Manitoba Hydro, electric power and natural gas utility owned by the government of the Canadian province of Manitoba, would result in soaring power rates, job losses and the handover of an essential service to wealthy, out-of-province owners, union leaders warned this week quoting a report publisheb by the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives (CCPA), a focal point of Social Watch.

Several labour organisations as the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE), the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers and the Communications, Energy and Paperworkers Union (which represents Winnipeg Free Press employees) released the report entitled “Power Struggle-Manitoba Hydro and the Spectre of Privatization” on Monday.

The study by the CCPA says other provincial experiments with privatization have resulted in soaring rates, a shortage of new generation projects and the end of a Crown (state-owned) power company as a tool of economic development and social equality.

The unions are asking members to make Manitoba Hydro’s fate an election issue in the run-up to the Oct. 4 vote and have launched billboards and radio ads, a lobbying campaign worth over 100,000 Canadian dollars (some USD 103,000).

The social-democratic New Democratic Party (NDP, opposition) had previously launched an anti-privatization campaign on radio, television and Internet to accuse the conservative government of harbouring a secret plan to sell the power company.

Tory (conservative) Leader Hugh McFadyen has said his party is committed to a power company wholly owned by Manitobans. He has said he has no plans to privatize Hydro, explore private financing for new dams or deregulate the province’s energy market.

CUPE National President Paul Moist said governments, especially Conservative ones, change policies quickly. The Filmon government sold Manitoba Telecom Services (MTS) in 1996 after pledging not to, and last fall New Brunswick’s premier was defeated after reneging on a pledge not to sell that province’s Crown power company.

"We’ve been to that movie in Manitoba," said Moist, a Winnipegger. "These things happen to change overnight."

According to the CCPA report, “the number of public-sector enterprises that have been sold off (such as MTS, Petro Canada and Air Canada), and the increasing willingness of governments to downsize the public sector and deregulate key sectors of the economy (e.g., transportation, energy, telecommunications), are testimonies to this shift in governance.”

“BC Hydro, a Crown corporation very similar to Manitoba Hydro, is in the process of been carved up, and its purpose and activities being radically changed as it slowly gets integrated into the deregulated U.S. electricity market. There is every reason to suspect that Manitoba Hydro is on several hit lists for privatization,” says the study.

The report explores “the flaws in the freemarket argument and gives examples of how Manitoba Hydro belies the predictions of economic theory.”

Read the complete report at