Premier Doug Ford insists he’s not to blame for U.S. regulators zapping Hydro One’s $6.7 billion takeover of Avista Corp., which will cost Ontario taxpayers tens of millions in cancellation fees and reduced share value.
In his first public statement since Washington state rejected the Ontario utility’s proposed takeover of Avista citing political meddling by Ford’s government, the premier was unrepentant.
“Upon assuming office we acted decisively to keep our promise to Ontario voters,” Ford said Thursday, referring to his decision to get rid of Mayo Schmidt, the Hydro One CEO he derided as the “$6-million man” for his hefty salary.
“I will never apologize for keeping my promises to the voters. We are reducing hydro rates and, after years of neglect, finally putting the ratepayer first,” the premier said.
“Yesterday’s news from the U.S. doesn’t change our focus on bringing down hydro rates and protecting the people of Ontario,” he said.
“This is a deal that was put together by the former board and former CEO of Hydro One — a deal that did nothing to lower hydro rates for Ontario residents.”
Ford said ratepayers should not “take a back seat to foreign regulators.”
“Our government ran on a clear promise to clean up the mess at Hydro One. This included a firm commitment to renew the Hydro One senior leadership that had lost the confidence of Ontario ratepayers. The people of Ontario elected us to follow through on this promise,” he said.
The Washington Utilities and Transportation Commission (UTC) said the $6.7-billion deal was not in the public interest because it was “evident” decisions impacting Hydro One were influenced by “political considerations” in Ontario.
Schmidt’s departure was followed by the resignation of the entire board, which state regulators said suggested Ontario was willing to put political interests above those of shareholders.
The cancellation deal will result in Hydro One paying a $103-million kill fee plus untold millions in lost share value since the province owns the largest stake in the utility.
In a joint statement Wednesday, Hydro One and Avista, which serves 400,000 electric and natural gas customers in eastern Washington, said they were “extremely disappointed” in the decision.
The UTC warned the risk of Ford’s government interfering in Hydro One’s affairs was “significant.”
“This, in turn, could diminish Avista’s ability to continue providing safe and reliable electrical and natural gas service to its customers in Washington,” the regulator said.
Hydro One is 47 per cent owned by the Ontario government after former Liberal premier Kathleen Wynne controversially sold off a majority share of the utility.
Both Ford’s Progressive Conservatives and Andrea Horwath’s New Democrats opposed the Liberal sell-off.
Robert Benzie is the Star’s Queen’s Park bureau chief and a reporter covering Ontario politics. Follow him on Twitter: @robertbenzie