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Poll finds Ontarians unhappy with Hydro One privatization plan

The Hydro One Pleasant Transfer Station is shown in Brampton, Ont., on March 9, 2015.

TIM FRASER/The Globe and Mail

A majority of Ontarians are against the Liberal government's plan to privatize Hydro One, a new poll suggests.

The Mainstreet Technologies survey found 60 per cent of respondents disapprove of selling off a majority of the public electricity company to the private sector, compared with 24 per cent in favour and 16 per cent unsure.

What's more, 77 per cent of respondents said they believe privatization will increase electricity prices, compared to just 9 per cent who said rates would go down and 14 per cent who said the sell-off would have no effect.

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Premier Kathleen Wynne plans to sell 60 per cent of Hydro One on the stock market, in several increments. The first installment, of 15 per cent, is to be floated within the year.

The Liberals believe they can raise $9-billion from the privatization. Of that, $5-billion will pay down debt in the electricity sector while $4-billion will be used to build new transit lines.

The poll numbers suggest government could have a tough time selling the plan to the public. With a majority in the legislature, the Liberals can easily push the sale forward. But the incremental sell-off plan means that at least some of the sales would likely come close to the next election, in 2018.

So far, the Liberals have tried to soft-pedal the Hydro One sell-off. They refuse to use the word "privatization," instead opting for such euphemisms as "broadening ownership" or "unlocking value."

And when Ms. Wynne announced the privatization plan two weeks ago, she played up a different, more popular announcement made at the same time – the decision to allow some grocery stores to sell beer – and played down Hydro One.

Public-sector unions have launched a radio ad campaign claiming the sell-off will lead to higher electricity prices, and both the opposition Progressive Conservatives and NDP have spoken out against the plan in the legislature. Earlier this week, NDP Leader Andrea Horwath also announced an anti-privatization petition and tour of the province.

Hydro One controls nearly all of Ontario's transmission lines, and also serves as the local distribution company for 1.4 million households.

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Mainstreet polled 2,445 Ontarians using interactive voice response technology on April 28. The poll is considered accurate to plus or minus 1.98 percentage points, 19 times out of 20.

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About the Author
Washington correspondent

Adrian Morrow covers U.S. politics from Washington, D.C. Previously he was The Globe's Ontario politics reporter. He's covered news, crime and sports for The Globe since 2010. He won the National Newspaper Award for politics reporting in 2016. More

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