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Private hydro hurts economy, Hampton says
Power bills 30% higher
Siri Agrell
The National Post

WAWA - Glaring orange NDP placards and For Sale signs share the lawns of this North Ontario town near the shore of Lake Superior.

A private company owns the power generators and transmission and distribution lines in Wawa, and since hydro deregulation, residents of this mining and logging town say their electricity bills have been almost 30% higher than those of others across the province. As a result, jobs have been lost, stores have closed and people have left town, and during a campaign stop in the town yesterday, NDP leader Howard Hampton named Wawa the "canary in the coal mine for hydro privatization and deregulation."

The candidate in the Oct. 2 provincial election told supporters the Conservative government plans to continue with its deregulation of the energy market, despite the impact it has had in Northern Ontario.

"Wawa is an example of what happens with full-blown privatization," he said.

Mr. Hampton visited ridings in Sudbury, Wawa and Sault Ste. Marie yesterday, bringing his "public power" message to Northern Ontario because he said it is here that industries will be most affected by higher energy rates.

"How sustainable is Northern Ontario's economic future if full-blown privatization means you're paying prices in the neighbourhood of 10 times what it costs to produce electricity?" he asked a crowd of supporters, many of them employees of Wawa's River Gold Mine.

David Ansara, the company's finance officer, said electricity bills have the potential to shut the operation down. Since deregulation in May, 2000, the company's energy costs have risen to 10% of its $35-million annual operating cost, from 7% in a regulated market.

"It's very critical to our industry," he said. "We definitely consume more electricity in the North."

Mr. Hampton said bills in the region should be substantially lower than in other parts of Ontario because of its proximity to seven major power dams. "Wawa ought to have possibly the lowest hydro rates in Ontario, possibly in North America. But in deregulated hydro, it's not how much it costs, it's how high you can drive the price."

He accused the Conservative government under Ernie Eves of offering Wawa rate assistance "just before people have to go to the polls.'

"The only thing we've seen over the past few months is a government that has tried to hide this issue, to hide the full economic and social impact of this issue because an election is on the way," he said, adding the company that controls Wawa's grid contributed $150,000 to Mr. Eves's leadership campaign.

Earlier in the day, Mr. Hampton used a chunk of Swiss cheese to demonstrate the problems with Mr. Eves's policy on Hydro deregulation, saying it is full of holes.

"You want to know what Ernie Eves's energy policy looks like?" he asked, showing the slice of cheese to a group of supporters and journalists outside the Falconbridge Mine near Sudbury.

He said both Mr. Eves and Liberal leader Dalton McGuinty declined to acknowledge the problems of selling off Hydro One until the "eve of an election," and do not understand the impact rising rates have on Northern Ontario industries such as mines, smelting plants and paper mills.

"Those of us who live in Northern Ontario know industries like this have to have reliable energy," he said, gesturing toward the mine. "If energy costs go up, plants like this have to shut down and thousands of jobs will be lost."

Mr. Hampton was joined at the Sudbury event by his wife, Shelley Martel, MPP for the Nickel Belt riding. His own riding of Rainy River is also in Ontario's North, and the NDP candidate believes he has a strong support in the region for his opposition of privately sold electricity.

But Mr. Hampton declined repeated requests from a local reporter about other issues concerning residents of the North, such as education and the loss of local industry and jobs, returning consistently to the topic of power.

"You will not bring new industry, you will not bring new jobs to the region without a cheap, reliable source of energy," he said. "Our interests in Northern Ontario are intimately tied with this issue."

When the reporter failed to accept that a publicly owned electricity system would help the quality of education and the availability of efficient health care in the North, Mr. Hampton deferred those topics to another time.

"In the next couple of weeks, I'll be very happy to lay out our plan on that," said Mr. Hampton. "I'm not here today to lay out A to Z, I'm here today for a specific purpose."

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