Regional utilities should be publicly-owned

Last week I gave an overview of the Drummond Report. This week, I would like to take the opportunity to look more closely at a few of his recommendations.
While there are some recommendations that many consider to be bad, such as scrapping full-day kindergarten, limiting spending growth in health and education, and eliminating the 10 percent Clean Air Benefit, I want to highlight some of the suggestions I think we can work with.
•Jobs in our region
Drummond emphasized the important role the “Ring of Fire” will play in Ontario’s economy, and reinforced some important points I have been making: namely, in order for us to move forward with this multi-billion-dollar project, we need to work and partner with First Nations.
Only when First Nations are brought on board will this project move forward, and I am pleased to see him underscore this point.
•Health care
Drummond recommends placing a greater emphasis on health promotion and reorganizing the way services are delivered to promote efficiencies.
I agree with Drummond that health promotion is under-utilized, and that efficiencies can be found to improve the co-ordination and delivery of health care in our region.
That said, I have concerns with simply handing more power to Local Health Integration Networks (LHINs) before making their boards transparent and publicly-elected.
As it stands, the region served by the Northwest LHIN is too large to manage effectively—to the detriment of areas outside of Thunder Bay.
I believe better quality health care can be delivered by creating a separate Kenora-Rainy River LHIN focused on rural health care delivery.
•Hydro
I’m encouraged that Drummond recommended changes to our electricity system that would see the creation of region utilities (this is something I’ve been calling for since before being elected).
As a region that already has our own electricity grid, and which currently produces some of the cleanest and cheapest electricity in North America, charging prices that accurately reflect the cost of generation in our region would benefit consumers and businesses greatly, and allow us to attract value-added industry, such as smelters, from the “Ring of Fire.”
I disagree, however, with Mr. Drummond’s suggestion that we eventually look at privatizing these regional utilities. As we know from electricity retailers, privatizing essential services simply does not work and makes our already unaffordable electricity prices completely unaffordable.
Instead, what we may want to consider is creating a regional utility that is owned by the municipalities and one which they make a very modest—and regulated—dividend.
This would give our municipalities an additional revenue source that could keep property taxes down while allowing them to replace aging infrastructure more easily.

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