It was standing room only during a We Own It town hall meeting in Belleville on Tuesday, November 7. OPSEU President Warren (Smokey) Thomas encouraged the crowd of nearly 100 to make their communities stronger and safer by fighting back against privatization.
“You’ll be doing yourselves, your kids, and your grandkids a huge favour if you join us in this fight against privatization,” Thomas said. “After this meeting, go home and talk to your friends and neighbours.
“I truly believe we can make our fight to save public services a major issue in the next election.”
One of a series of events in communities across the province, the Belleville town hall featured Thomas, Prince Edward-Hastings MPP Todd Smith, Hydro One Not For Sale chairperson Rosario Marchese, and Glenn Maxwell, President of the National Defence Consultation Team of the Professional Institute of the Public Service of Canada.
Marchese and Smith, who is the Energy Critic for the Ontario Progressive Conservatives, focussed their presentations on privatization in the hydro system.
“You might say that the Ontario Progressive Conservatives started this whole idea of selling-off our hydro system, and you’d be right,” Smith said. “But the difference between now and then is that [former Conservative Premier] Ernie Eves realized how unpopular the idea of privatizing hydro was, and he backed off.”
Smith said he recognizes that high hydro rates are hurting businesses and individuals, but that his party does not have a plan it’s willing to make public.
Marchese, a former NDP MPP, told the crowd there’s only one real solution.
“If we want to get our rates under control, we have to make hydro public again,” he said. “Otherwise, the private sector will just keep on gouging us.”
Marchese acknowledged that making hydro public again won’t be easy or inexpensive, but said it’s far from impossible. He pointed out that Conservative Sir Adam Beck overcame huge obstacles when he made the hydro system fully public in the early 1900s.
“It will cost us,” Marchese said. “But it will cost us much much more in the long run if we simply accept privatized hydro and accept paying more to private corporations.”
Maxwell, speaking about the “Federal Infrastructure Bank,” echoed Marchese’s concerns about the long-term costs of selling our public services and assets.
“Government can borrow at two per cent, but this federal government is offering private corporations returns of nine per cent,” said Maxwell. “Who's going to pay for that difference? You are.”
Even worse: many of the corporations that end up in control of our public services hire workers on part-time, short-term, and precarious contracts.
“The federal finance minister says it’s the ‘gig economy’ and we should just get used to it,” Maxwell said. “But these are our kids and grandkids he’s talking about. Why should he get to decide that’s the economy we have to have?”
Closing out the meeting, Thomas encouraged everybody to talk to their friends, families, and neighbours about public services, privatization, and the kinds of communities we want to build for ourselves.
“I love town halls like this because it shows us that we have numbers and we have strength,” he said. “If we can band together on this, we’ll win.”