TORONTO – Ontario’s Liberal government is counting on billions of dollars from the sale of provincial assets so it should be able to say exactly what will be sold to raise that money, the NDP said Tuesday.
“The Liberal Party’s infrastructure program clearly states that the plan is to pocket $3.15 billion from the sale of public assets,” New Democrat Peter Tabuns said during question period.
“If you know you’re going to raise at least $3.15 billion from overall asset sales, you also know how much you’re planning to get from the whole or partial sale of OPG, LCBO and Hydro One.”
The Liberals set up an advisory council, chaired by TD Bank Group CEO Ed Clark, to find ways to “optimize” the value of Ontario Power Generation, Hydro One and the Liquor Control Board, which could involve inviting pension funds to invest in the agencies while retaining public ownership.
It’s too early to provide details on what could be the subject of a total or partial sale, Premier Kathleen Wynne told the legislature.
“We have asked Ed Clark and his team to look at the assets that are owned by the people of Ontario to make sure that they are working to the very best benefit of the people of Ontario,” said Wynne. “But I don’t have the specific answers at this point because we’ve asked him to do that work.”
The New Democrats are worried about “a fire sale” of provincial assets, and claimed the government plans a whole or partial sale of the LCBO and the hydro utilities, which they warned would drive up electricity bills even higher.
“You don’t burn the furniture to heat the house, so will the premier tell Ontarians what public assets she’s planning to sell off,” asked NDP Leader Andrea Horwath.
“They listed LCBO, OPG and Hydro One because they are, let’s say, targets,” added Tabuns.
Interim Progressive Conservative Leader Jim Wilson said it was a good idea for the government to look at ways to squeeze the most value as possible out of its assets, as long as the public remains the majority owner in each case.
“There’s money tied up in those assets that could be used to improve services or to reduce the deficit,” said Wilson. “My preference is no outright sales, no 100 per cent sales. We should hold the majority of shares in these companies.”
The government is also looking at sales of the shares it purchased in General Motors during the recession as well as some of real estate including the LCBO and OPG buildings in downtown Toronto, to help trim a $12.5 billion deficit.
The president and CEO of Infrastructure Ontario, the provincial agency that will take the lead on the sale of government assets, is Bert Clark, son of Ed Clark, the man appointed by Wynne to chair the Liberal’s advisory committee on asset sales.
“Obviously, it doesn’t look good,” said Tabuns. “I think the whole process is misguided, top to bottom, and that just adds to it.”
The Tories said they were confident the Liberals implemented checks and balances to make sure “something funny doesn’t happen” with father and son on different sides of the negotiating table while discussing government asset sales.
“I’d give them the benefit of the doubt right now because they’re both very professional people,” said Wilson.
Deputy Premier Deb Matthews said she didn’t see any conflict at all with Ed Clark chairing the government’s advisory committee and Bert Clark heading the provincial agency that would lead the asset sales.
“Anybody who knows Ed Clark, and looks at his history not just in his role as a banker but his personal philanthropy, knows this is a man who is above reproach,” she said. “He wants to help the government maximize our assets.”