By Frank Giorno
Doug Ford, the leader of the Ontario Progressive Conservative Party easily won the overwhelming support of Timmins and area party members, who enthusiastically received their leader that not even a 90-minute delay due to a late arriving plane could dampen.
He heartily shook every hand in the room and stopped to warmly chat with the venerable Allan Pope, MPP for Timmins and the Minister of Natural Resources and Attorney General in the government of Mike Harris in the 1990s.
Ford Nation populism at its best
Ford was impressive.This was Ford Nation populism at its best.
After shaking hands with everyone in the room, often stopping to chat with a familiar face or a newly made friend, Ford made his way to the front of Timmins’ Cedar Meadow Inn hall after being introduced by Yvan Genier, the newly acclaimed PC candidate for the new Timmins riding. The northern half of the riding was carved off when the new Mushkegowuk riding was created.
Ford knew his stuff and he stood at the front of the hall, like a Sunday morning preacher and talked from his heart without the aid of a written speech in front of him. He spoke for about 20 minutes.
And Ford had plenty so say starting off with a lambasting of the current Premier Kathleen Wynn and her past transgressions, especially as it applied to the profligate spending and increasing deficit.
- Ford referenced Ontario Auditor chiding Wynne for downplaying the size of the deficit — auditor added $5 billion that the Liberals tried to hide for a total deficit of $14 billion.
- Next he attacked Wynne for the Hydro One CEO $1.6 M salary
- He promised tax cuts and small and limited government with less taxes taken away from individuals.
- And playing to a Northern Ontario audience, Ford floated a proposal to return $20 to $30 million to the North by introducing a resource revenue sharing process so that Northern Ontario “receives fair benefits from Northern resources.
Ford Promises that Northern Ontario would get $20 to $30 million in revenue sharing
“I believe in letting northerners keep their own money. Do what you want. Fix roads,” he said. “I believe in just letting them do what they want.”
What Ford, didn’t say is that some of the most costly roads to repair are the former provincial highways like Highway 101 that runs through Timmins, that the last Progressive Conservative government under Mike Harris devolved to the municipalities. .
That portion now in the hands of the City of Timmins is known as the Connecting Link, as it is the municipal link between the provincially held portion of Highway 101. The Connecting Link is a 21 km stretch of municipally owned portion of Highway 101 running from Porcupine on the east to Kamaskotia Rd on the west.
Over the last couple of years the City of Timmins paid the following amounts:
- First portion: 2016, Bruce Avenue west to the Tisdale Cemetery cost of $4.5 million. The Ontario government provided $3 million grant to Timmins in 2016, which was the maximum for a Connecting Link grant in Ontario.
- Second portion: 2017, Highway 101 from the Tisdale Cemetery to the bottom of Rae Hill, cost of $3.5 million. The city was turned down for the maximum grant of $3 million,. the province said no.
- City council decided the work should go ahead and approved taking out a 10-year $4-million loan to pay for the work done last summer. The payback period on that debenture began this year with the first annual payment being roughly $455,000.
The question is with other Northern Ontario municipalities like Sudbury, North Bay, Sault Ste. Marie and Thunder Bay, plus all the cities, towns and villages in between needing to fix the heavily portions of the only provincial highways downloaded by the Harris government will the $20 to $30 million that Ford promised the north be enough to undo the legacy of provincial download of services to northern municipalities that were unleashed by the Harris government?
The $20-$30 million would be paid by a portion of provincial revenues collected from aggregate licenses, stumpage fees and the mining tax, Ford explained.
“Your resources. Your benefits. I think that’s only fair,” said Ford.
And then there were the questions by the media about whether the promise was a tactic to buy votes, similar to Mike Harris’ 30 percent tax cut that saw Ontarians receive a cheque for approximately $290. .
“No, I don’t do that. My name’s not Kathleen Wynne,” said Ford. “I don’t have to do that. My whole platform is for the people. For the people – reducing Hydro rates by 12% for the people, getting rid of the carbon tax to create good-paying jobs for the people, reducing taxes on business for the people, putting money back into the communities for the people to do what they want.”
Kathleen Wynne called Ford’s proposal “bluster.”
Gilles Bisson, the NDP MPP for Timmins-James Bay, and the candidate or the new Timmins riding, issued a news release urging northerners not to be fooled by the PC’s leaders promises. Bisson noted that Ford has already promised about $6 billion in cuts.
Ford responded, “I don’t believe in the word ‘cuts.’ I’m going to drive efficiencies, as we did with the City of Toronto.”
“The last PC government closed community schools, shut down emergency rooms and privatized road clearing and maintenance, ” Bisson reminded voters.
Bisson fears Ford will cut hospital budgets in northeastern Ontario by $160 million, close down schools, fire thousands of teachers and continue with the “disastrous” privatization of snow removal and road maintenance.”
But Ford replied, “I’m not going to be closing anything and “I’m going to put money back into the community”.
Ford promised to fire Hydro One CEO
If Ford were to become premier he would fire Mayo Schmidt, the CEO of Hydro One and board of Hydro One.
“We need fresh blood in there, somebody that will be responsible, respectful of the taxpayers,” Ford told reporters.
Ford’s determination to fire Mayo Schmidt, Hydro One’s CEO will not be cheap, but he may not even have the authority to act on his populist pledge that is very appealing to rural voters.
According to Hydro One’s annual report released on March 29, Hydro One CEO Mayo Schmidt, earned a $6.2-million salary last year, and would be entitled to at least $10.7 million in severance if he were to be removed from his job by the board of directors.
The severance amount is an estimate based on a December 31, 2017 dismissal of Schmidt by the Hydro One board which is the only authority that can remove the CEO. The figure would be much higher if the CEO left after that date.
Even Todd Smith, Ontario Progressive Conservative energy critic admitted that the Ontario government can’t directly dismiss the Hydro One CEO, as it was partially privatized in 2015, with the province saying it planned to use the sale of shares to fund transit and infrastructure projects. As of December 2017, Ontario only controlled 47 percent of the stake in Hydro One with 53 percent owned by the private sector.
But, the government has put a process in place that allows it to control or replace the company’s board of directors, and only the board can fire the CEO.
Technically speaking Hydro One is no longer a crown corporation, but in fact a private corporation with 53 percent of shares held by the private sector.
With that in mind, Schmidt’s annual salary of $1,6 million is quite puny compared to a list of Canada’s top 100 private sector salaries for CEO’s compiled by Canadian Business and McLean’s Magazine.