WATCH ABOVE: Fred Hahn, the president of CUPE Ontario, told reporters Wednesday that his union intends to sue Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne for misfeasance in public office over the sale of portions of Hydro One.
The head of the Ontario chapter of the Canadian Union of Public Employees said Wednesday the union plans to sue the provincial government over its planned sale of a majority of Hydro One, the province’s electricity transmission monopoly.
Fred Hahn, CUPE Ontario’s president, says a 60-day notice of intent to sue Wynne, Finance Minister Charles Sousa, and Energy Minister Glenn Thibeault for misfeasance was served to the Ministry of the Attorney General on Tuesday.
Hahn charges the Ontario government inappropriately mixed government and party business with expensive fundraisers with cabinet ministers. One such fundraiser, a $7,500-per-ticket event with Sousa and former Energy Minister Bob Chiarelli, was attended by bankers who profited from the sale of Hydro One.
While Commissioner J. David Wake ruled last month that Sousa and Chiarelli didn’t contravene the Members’ Integrity Act by attending the fundraiser, the government now prohibits ministers from attending such events.
Both opposition parties oppose the Wynne government’s plan to sell up to 60 per cent of the public utility. The province plans to use the money from the sale to fund major public transit and infrastructure projects and pay off debt.
The province’s sale in 2015 of 30 per cent of Hydro One raised $3.2-billion.
In an interview with AM980’s Devon Peacock on Wednesday, Hahn said the goal of the lawsuit was to halt the sale of any further shares.
“They’ve already sold 30 per cent of shares, so what that means, is that you and I and our friends and neighbours, the people of Ontario, still own 70 per cent of our hydro system, and we want to stop them from selling further shares so we don’t lose majority control of our hydro system,” Hahn said.
Hahn says there is a 60-day notice period which provides the two sides with an opportunity to talk to one another, or see if they can avoid proceeding with a legal fight. Details of the case will be made public after the 60-day period is over, Hahn said.
“I have great hope that alongside all the expert opinion that has been provided to the government, because they have had expert opinion, the Financial Accountability Officer, as one example of the legislature, said this makes no financial sense,” Hahn said.
“There’s huge public outcry, clear public opinion opposed to the privatization of our hydro system,” he continued. “Alongside all of that, we’re hopeful that this additional initiative causes them to pause and to think clearly about what they’re doing.”
Hahn says there is precedence in using the courts this way. In the early 2000s, CUPE successfully sued the then Progressive Conservative Ontario government over their planned sale of Ontario Hydro.
While a notice of intent to sue was served on Tuesday, the government said Wednesday it still was “not aware of any action from CUPE.”
Premier Wynne said she couldn’t comment on the suit itself, but defended the sale.
“We’ll have to let the judicial process unfold, but I would just say that many of the people who are agitated about this are also agitated about not having new modern infrastructure in the province,” Wynne said.
“Those investments have to come from somewhere, and that’s why we’re making the changes on Hydro One,” she continued. “We’re using an asset to leverage funding for a new asset that will be owned by the people of Ontario.”
Asked for comment, Energy Minister Thibeault said he also couldn’t comment on the lawsuit, but insisted the Liberals did nothing wrong with the fundraisers.
NDP Leader Andrea Horwath said the lawsuit was another way of sending to the government the strong message that the public doesn’t want the hydro utility sold off.
(With files from Matthew Trevithick)