Monday 28 September 1998
Energy Competition Act, 1998, Bill 35, Mr Wilson /
Loi de 1998 sur la concurrence dans le secteur de l'énergie,
projet de loi 35, M. Wilson
STANDING COMMITTEE ON RESOURCES DEVELOPMENT
Chair / Présidente
Mrs Brenda Elliott (Guelph PC)
Vice-Chair / Vice-Président
Mr Peter L. Preston (Brant-Haldimand PC)
Mr David Christopherson (Hamilton Centre / -Centre ND)
Mr Ted Chudleigh (Halton North / -Nord PC)
Mr Sean G. Conway (Renfrew North / -Nord L)
Mrs Brenda Elliott (Guelph PC)
Mr Doug Galt (Northumberland PC)
Mr John Hastings (Etobicoke-Rexdale PC)
Mr Pat Hoy (Essex-Kent L)
Mr Bart Maves (Niagara Falls PC)
Mr Peter L. Preston (Brant-Haldimand PC)
Substitutions / Membres remplaçants
Mr John R. Baird (Nepean PC)
Mrs Helen Johns (Huron PC)
Mr Wayne Lessard (Windsor-Riverside ND)
Also taking part / Autres participants et participantes
Mr Les Horswill, Assistant Deputy Minister,
Ministry of Energy, Science and Technology
Clerk / Greffière
Ms Donna Bryce
Staff / Personnel
Mr Doug Beecroft, legislative counsel
The committee met at 1551 in committee room 1.
ENERGY COMPETITION ACT, 1998 LOI DE 1998 SUR LA CONCURRENCE DANS LE SECTEUR DE L'ÉNERGIE
Consideration of Bill 35, An Act to create jobs and protect consumers by promoting low-cost energy through competition, to protect the environment, to provide for pensions and to make related amendments to certain Acts / Projet de loi 35, Loi visant à créer des emplois et à protéger les consommateurs en favorisant le bas prix de l'énergie au moyen de la concurrence, protégeant l'environnement, traitant de pensions et apportant des modifications connexes à certaines lois.
The Chair (Mrs Brenda Elliott): Good afternoon, colleagues. We are gathered here for the purpose of clause-by-clause debate on Bill 35. Welcome back. You have before you a black binder and in it are all the amendments that have been presented. They are listed in order of the way the sections fall within the bill. To minimize confusion, we'll go through them as they appear in the bill. Without further ado, we'll begin right away.
Are there are questions, comments or amendments to the bill, and if so, to which section? Are there any pertaining to section 1?
Mrs Helen Johns (Huron): Can I just do a point of order before we start? I guess it's a point of process. I'm not sure where it is, but what we thought we would do -- and I don't know if I need unanimous consent for this -- is that I would move all the government motions. With that the parliamentary assistant to either environment, finance or energy would speak to the reason for the amendment. Do I need unanimous consent to have that happen?
The Chair: No. Maybe what would be easier is -- you're going to read each one or you will read each amendment as it's introduced?
Mrs Johns: Yes, each motion as it's introduced.
The Chair: Okay. Then just flag who's going to speak. It would be helpful if you would flag whoever would be speaking to that. Does anyone have any problems with unanimous consent on that?
Mr Sean G. Conway (Renfrew North): No, I think that's a perfectly good idea. I support it. We've been away from this for a few days. It's going to take me a few minutes to get back into the groove. I'm happy to support that request. I would certainly ask as well the indulgence of the Chair and the staff to make sure that -- it's been a long time since I've done this. This is a more complicated piece of legislation. I'm just looking at some of this and thinking, where does that connect? We're going to need some help in the early going just to make sure that we get the motions properly placed and properly debated. I'm quite happy to support that.
Mrs Johns: What's going to happen is that members will move at this end of the table. Right now it's energy people and it will move between finance and environment as we need. We'll try to keep the movement as little as possible so that there's not a flow of that. But I think there'll be some information that needs to come forward. That's our intent. If I could have unanimous consent to that, that would be terrific.
Mr Conway: No problem at all.
The Chair: Do we have unanimous consent? Yes, no problem.
All right, we'll begin with section 1. Are there any comments, questions or amendments to section 1? Seeing none, then --
Mr Conway: Wait, we have --
The Chair: You're going to refer to section 1.1.
Mr Conway: Right, all right.
The Chair: Just so that everyone knows, when there's a new section -- if I can explain this to everyone so we all understand, there's a Liberal motion that will be first presented for section 1.1. This is not an amendment to the piece that's already written into the bill so it would be treated by legislative staff as a new piece to the bill. We would address section 1 as it is in the bill. Then that would be separately addressed as a new part of the bill, not an amendment to section 1.
Mr Conway: My problem's going to be where these things fit in. Anyway, carry on.
The Chair: I'll try to be as clear as I can. Section 1, as written in the bill: At this point there are no written amendments presented. Is there any discussion or comment on section 1? Seeing none, shall section 1 carry? All those in favour? Opposed? It carries.
Our first amendment is on page 2 of your binder. It's a Liberal motion. It's a new section, section 1.1.
Mr Conway: I move that the bill be amended by adding the following section:
"OEB directive re public review of regulations
"1.1(1) As soon as possible after this act receives royal assent, the Ontario Energy Board shall issue a directive dealing in a comprehensive manner with public review of proposed regulations under the Electricity Act, 1998 and the Ontario Energy Board Act, 1998.
"(2) Despite anything in the Electricity Act, 1998 and the Ontario Energy Board Act, 1998, no regulation shall be made under either act unless,
"(a) the maker of the regulation has first complied with the directive; or
"(b) the board has exempted the specific regulation-making power from public review."
The point of this amendment is to reflect some of the testimony that we heard from several of the witnesses that the process be open and transparent. My colleagues and I believe that this would be a very useful addition to the legislation to support that openness and transparency.
Mrs Johns: I appreciate that there is a need, especially when we're making substantial change like this, for openness and transparency. There is no question about that. There are a number of people the government is consulting with presently and will continue to consult with as we go along. We are of course talking to the Market Design Committee, we're talking to the Minister's Electricity Transition Committee, we're talking to the Ontario Energy Board, we're talking to stakeholders. We're using each of those groups to help us to make sure that the regulations are fair, adequate.
When Mr Laughren came before us, we talked about the process. As I think all committee members will remember, at one point I asked Mr Laughren if he would like to review, for example, the stranded debt and he said, and I'm paraphrasing him here: "I have so many things going on that I have my hands full dealing with the licensing, dealing with the requirements I have now. If we want to move this through on a timely basis, I have a full load."
I would suggest to Mr Conway that what we have here is some concern over making sure that the government consults. I would like to give him every confidence that the government is consulting. We have the Market Design Committee there, for example, consulting on these things. It would be an excessive duplication if we said everything that we decided in regulations, let's say that it was approved by the Market Design Committee, then goes through the Ontario Energy Board. From that standpoint, the point's well taken that we need to do as much consultation as possible, but I'm not sure, and in fact I disagree, that this is the route we should go. I believe that we have to bring in as many people as we possibly can to make this legislation right. The government's track record on bringing people in to consult on this legislation has been somewhat of a model.
Mr Conway: Now that I'm starting to get my head around, and I apologize for my lowness --
Mrs Johns: Take a little more time.
Mr John R. Baird (Nepean): It takes us a few years to get --
Mr Conway: The member makes a good point. This is really complicated stuff and it's a new world into which we're entering. I spent some time since we last met rereading the Shortell and Best book called The Brass Ring, a chapter which would be very worthwhile reviewing. It's the story of Union Gas and the hostile takeover by Unicorp and what actually went on underneath the nose of the Ontario government and the nose of the Ontario Energy Board. It involved some very interesting people.
That was under the old scheme. This is a new world where the hope of the consumer is that there is going to be for the first time meaningful, rigorous and transparent regulation of the players in this business. Make no mistake about it, we're going to have big, powerful sharks in this pool.
I had forgotten that Union Gas story. Some pretty impressive people were taken down pretty quickly in that, apparently. The minister of the day was consulting, to be sure. That was all above the waterline. It was what was going on underneath the waterline. We had some pretty impressive business people in this province up to some pretty interesting activity. I think of the evidence that was tendered by the Consumers' Association and by others about the Market Design Committee. I'm not going to be able to reference all of this stuff because we just had too much too quickly.
I think there is broad support for what the government wants to do here, but we've got to be as good or as reasonably good in matching the words with the music. Darcy McKeogh was not exactly an innocent when it came to swimming in troubled waters. When you see what happened to McKeogh and company in the Union Gas story, let me tell you, I have quite a substantial concern about what might happen once we open this up, and we are going to open this up.
I've yet to meet a minister who wasn't well-intentioned. They are all really busy people, and this stuff is complicated. My point here, and it's a theme that's going to repeat itself throughout a number of my amendments -- I don't think there's any difference of opinion about the objective; we just have to have some mechanism to be effective.
It's just not good enough. I don't care which one of us is the minister, I want a regulator. The point about the regulator now is you want to get this away from the politicians to the greatest extent possible. If you're going to have a competitive marketplace, you're going to have to have regulators who are going to be empowered to make some very tough, sometimes some very controversial decisions between some not very pretty people on occasion, because there are going to be very substantial corporate pressures at work here and I'm not wanting to disguise that. That's essentially the point. It's because I want there to be a reasonable amount of transparency and openness to this process.
I'm trying to think of some other examples. Union is the one that comes right back at me, but there are others. It was the Market Design Committee, and I think they were quoting in their second report some fellow from one of the utilities from California just talking about how difficult it was to figure out all that was going on under the waterline. This is, to say it again, complicated stuff, and the best intentions of the best minister in the world I don't think are going to be good enough to ensure that the public interest is going to be protected.
Just to use a current example -- and it's in a different subject area -- I wonder how many people there are in the United States, particularly in New York, who knew the New York branch of the Federal Reserve and what it was up to with long-term investment capital. I tell you, I would have been stunned to find out that these people were up to those tricks -- really outrageous tricks by what it appears.
There's a lot going to be happening and I just think to protect the public we have got to be as open and as transparent as possible, and that's the purpose of this amendment and several like it. I don't think it's imposing an undue burden on the board. We are transferring. We are saying with this policy that we are transferring a very substantial amount of the regulatory burden from the cabinet office to the OEB. That's a fundamental part of this policy, and it's going to be one hell of a change in culture around here for whoever is in government. So if that's what you want, and that's apparently what we all want, then we have to empower that organization to do a very tough job in the public interest.
Mrs Johns: I take your point. There is no question that you give us a very valid history of the ineffectiveness of the Ontario Energy Board and, more important, the ineffectiveness of ministers in the past, I suppose. But I think what's important to recognize here is that what we're trying to do and what you're trying to do in this section is to get the Ontario Energy Board involved in making the regulations.
What we proposed in our vision, if you will, looking at it, was that the Ontario Energy Board would enforce the regulations. What we've had in the past is an Ontario Energy Board without teeth. You and I saw that at the select committee. We saw that in all of our Hydro meanderings together. I'm sure you've seen that. We heard at the select committee on Hydro that Hydro would go there and ask for a rate increase and when the Ontario Energy Board said it should be this, they would do whatever they wanted to do. They only had to take that under advisement. The Ontario Energy Board hasn't had teeth. What we have proposed in this particular document is that the Ontario Energy Board gets teeth.
What's important to recognize, though, is that to get these regulations we need to deal with a wide spectrum of people who can help us make the best regulations we can as we proceed forward, with very different expertise along the line. We need to have stakeholders there. We need to have generators who are going to become involved. We need to have a whole number of different people.
What's important to recognize here is that unlike some other bills, where the minister is dealing in isolation, is that the stakeholder involvement in these regulations is, in my history in politics, incredible. They are involved in every decision that happens. I agree the Ontario Energy Board has to have teeth. I agree that the Ontario Energy Board has made mistakes in the past because they've had their hands tied. We don't intend to tie the hands of the Ontario Energy Board but we need to give them directions so they can enforce those, and that's what we're doing in the regulations.
I fundamentally disagree with them being involved in the regulations in isolation and not with the Market Design Committee and a number of different groups we have set up who have worked from the Macdonald commission forward. I disagree that the Ontario Energy Board should take over all of these. We have a vast depth of experience and industry involvement right now and I think we need to capitalize on that.
Mr Conway: I'm not arguing. I don't expect perfection. Listen, mistakes were made in the past and they'll be made again. That's not my point. My point is that we are entering a fundamentally new world. This is a world in which we are saying the market is going to decide a number of fundamental and potentially very controversial issues. That's what you've got to have if you're going to have a market-driven electricity business, surely.
The protector of the public interest in this is a regulator. It's because it's a fundamentally different business that I think we require some -- in fairness to the government, the board is being empowered in ways that are beyond its normal mandate, so I accept that.
The other point that I think is important -- they're already going on. Some of the most vicious fighting on this matter is going to be within the Ontario government because the interests of the Minister of Energy and the interests of the Minister of Finance, whoever they may be, in whichever government, are often going to be contradictory. They are not going to be the same interests. One of the questions I've got as a citizen is that I want somebody to arbitrate that dispute. I don't expect the regulator to solve all those problems, but I'm telling you, I have said to you before and I'll be saying it again throughout the course of these hearings, the government of Ontario, any government of Ontario, under this regime is going to find itself in some very serious conflicts of interest. If you believe in Pollyanna and the tooth fairy you will say, "Listen, it will all get resolved happily and in the public interest." I don't believe in the tooth fairy or Pollyanna. I believe in the realities of interest-based politics, and the interests of the Minister of Energy and the interests of the Minister of Finance are contradictory at key points in this process.
I want somebody, hopefully the regulator, who is going to be able to produce some balance and some adjudication of those in the public interest. I don't expect perfection and I'm not here to complain about all the mistakes. A lot of the mistakes couldn't even have been imagined as mistakes at the time. I would ask you to go back, because it's very relevant, I think, and look at that union case and the issues that play there. I'll tell you, if I were a citizen -- and there were lots of citizens who got very, very concerned. The government was bombarded. We were launching inquiries -- the government of Ontario I think launched three of them to try to figure out what was going on, and what was going on was pretty interesting stuff. That's under the old scheme.
Under the new scheme -- again, since we last met, look at what people like Osborne and others are saying. I understand as a corporate ambition. I'm just thinking about the citizen here. Who is protecting my interests? Presumably it's going to be the regulator, so I want to give the regulator some reasonable power to deal with these issues of transparency and fairness.
Also, because we had testimony from a number of people who said, "Because this is going to be so complicated and so ongoing that you're going to have to have the ability to develop things quickly and they've got to be user-friendly," I think those reasons also support the amendment.
Anyway, that's my argument.
Mr Wayne Lessard (Windsor-Riverside): I just want to indicate my support to the amendment as well. We know that it's going to take some time for this legislation to be passed and for market power to be available in Ontario. I think that one of the things that came through loud and clear during our debate on first reading and also presentations that were made to us was that this really is just a framework for competitive energy marketing in Ontario and that a lot of the details have been left out. A lot of those details are going to be found in the regulations.
I think it's incumbent upon us to ensure that there is some public review, there is public input, there is transparency in the development of those regulations. I understand the parliamentary assistant's comments about there being a number of experts who are available to be involved in the regulation-making process, but I, like Mr Conway, have the concern of the public interest generally, the consumer's interest. Who is going to be ensuring that those regulations are passed in the interests of consumers? Those are the people who I think we need to ensure are somehow involved in this process. It is a very complicated piece of legislation.
We didn't get a whole lot of people who were just representative of the average consumer come to make presentations to our committee, and I think for the very reason that the bill is as complex as it is. In the interests of ensuring that there's some transparency, that there is public involvement in the regulation-making process and that the consumer interest is protected as well, I'm happy to support this amendment.
The Chair: Further discussion or debate?
Seeing none, I put the question: Shall the Liberal amendment to new section 1.1 on page 2 be passed? All those in favour? Opposed? It's lost.
Moving now to section 2, we have a Liberal motion to section 2(3).
Mr Conway: I move that section 2 of the bill be amended by adding the following subsection:
"Conditions to be satisfied before proclamation
"(3) Despite subsection (2), no proclamation shall be issued under any of the schedules unless the following conditions have been satisfied:
"1. The stranded debt referred to in section 79 of the Electricity Act, 1998, as set out in schedule A of the bill, has been determined as if the relevant provisions were already in force, and has been made public.
"2. All details of special payments to reduce the stranded debt, including amounts, payors and means of collection, have been established under section 80 of the Electricity Act, 1998 as if the relevant provisions were already in force, and have been made public.
"3. Regulations have been established under the Environmental Protection Act to impose specific emission caps on fossil fuel burning generation facilities and to require detailed monitoring of emissions from those facilities.
"4. A comprehensive public education program has been conducted to help consumers make informed choices in the new deregulated electricity market."
Part of the reason this is so complicated is that you give all these things to legislative counsel in a memorandum and then they come back and it's, "Oh, yes." I have left my aide-mémoire up in the office, one of the ones all marked up, so until I go back up there and get it I'll fly by the seat of my you-know-what.
This for me is a critical question. I don't want to sound too precious on this subject, but the more I have thought about where we're at in this process at this critical point, the more angry I get. There's a part of me now that just wants to walk out of here and say, "If the Legislature doesn't care and the public of Ontario doesn't care at this point, why should I care?" and here I do want to visit upon the committee the benefit of 22 1/2 or 23 years.
Hydro does not deserve the kind of latitude they apparently expect to get from this Legislature. I just cannot believe that after all that has happened over the last number of years and decades, this Legislature, run by so many new people, is willing to play the same old game and take the same old hollow assurances from Ontario Hydro that birds like me took for a generation and more. I would have thought that if there's one thing you people would want to do, it's to learn from the painful, transparent mistakes that people like I have made.
On stranded debt, what am I asking here in point number one? What I am asking is that this bill essentially not be proclaimed until the people of Ontario, the people we represent, have at least some better picture of a critical financial calculation, that surely they are owed, before we dispose of this bill. I have to say, and I'm not looking for an excuse to be difficult, I will not sign off on this bill in the absence of additional information around stranded debt. I just won't do it. I wouldn't go to my banker and take out a mortgage for a doghouse on the basis of the information I now have with respect to stranded debt. People laugh, and they should laugh, because what this amounts to is -- and I'll say this now because I may as well get it out of my system -- what is this Legislature being asked again? "Don't worry. Trust us. Just give us the enabling legislation. It will all be fine. Trust us. It will work out." If there was ever a policy file where a Legislative Assembly in this province ought not to be its trust in those kinds of bland, imprecise assurances, surely it is this file.
Steve Dorey is a very capable public servant. I think poor Steve thinks I've been picking on him lately, and I don't mean to pick on him, because he's a good guy. I reread his testimony from his appearance and I think about the purchase testimony up in Ottawa. These are seasoned public servants. First of all I'm left with what I was promised some months ago, "You'll get a clearer picture by the late summer or early fall." It's September 28 today and I have no more information now. I have this little document, Electricity Competition: A Financial Update. As I said before, it looks like a Mackenzie King electoral platform: It may be X and it may be Y; it's whatever. It's the Delphic Oracle. It can mean everything or it can mean nothing, and "Leave it for us to decide."
The problem with this is that we're looking at a situation where we've got a public utility that has something in the neighbourhood of $32 billion worth of accrued debt. There is going to be a calculation. Steve Dorey was pretty good about telling us how those calculations were going to work, that there was first of all going to have to be a market valuation for the two new companies. What could they commercially carry in terms of debt? What would be left behind? Dorey tells us that what is left behind is going to be in the order of billions of dollars. For the people I represent, and I dare say for all of the people you represent, that is not an inconsequential liability.
We are doing this because we want to deal with a number of issues, not the least of which is rate. The bill says, "An Act to create jobs and protect consumers by promoting low-cost energy through competition" -- to promote low-cost energy through competition. If I'm just Joe Q. Public living in Smithville or Pembroke or Barrhaven, I think that must mean they're going to do something about bringing my rates down, maybe. I hear that there's this multi-billion dollar debt. I'd want to know more than I now know about how that's going to be managed just because I would in my normal life. If I go to sign a mortgage for my home, what do I want to know? My banker wants to know some questions, but I want to know some questions too. What's the interest rate? What's the amortization period? Those would be two things I'd want to know. My banker would want to know something about my financial integrity. Why would we treat Ontario Hydro and the Ontario taxpayer any differently, particularly at this juncture?
At one level it is a contempt of the Legislature to ask that the Legislature endorse this policy with no financial information as to that stranded debt. I don't expect all of the details. Steve Dorey is right; it is complicated. Bryne Purchase told us in Ottawa: "Don't worry. Whatever number you pick, you'll get it wrong." That would put it in the mainstream of all Hydro financial matters for a long time. But that's part of the reason why we're here. Part of the reason we're here is that the publics we represent say, "I'm like Popeye; I've had enough, and enough is too much." Now what are we asking? We're asking the Legislature, "Hold your hand firm, get the pen ready and sign a blank cheque." I'm not prepared to do that. I view that as a fundamental abdication of my responsibilities to my people and to the broader public interest.
I know it's not easy. One of the reasons I'm probably not going to favour one of the NDP amendments down the stream is that I don't think we're going to be able to manage that debt without some short-term impact on rates, and it may not be a positive impact on rates. I'm quite prepared to go back to my electors and say, "Listen, we've built this situation up over decades and we're going to have to manage it effectively, and quite frankly we may very well have to look at some things that are not very popular." I don't know what the alternatives are, because we are in a corner.
The point of the first issue is simply, number one, the stranded debt. There the intention is to say that before this bill passes, and as far as I'm concerned before we get to third reading, I believe the Legislature is owed substantially more information around what is the best estimate of those valuations for the successor companies. We've got every bloody investment banker from New York to Vancouver, apparently, working on this and they've been working at it for six months. I can imagine the bills that are flowing into the exchequer for all of their good work. I think the Legislature, since it's paying for all of this, should have the benefit of some of the analysis before it signs off on this bill. So I feel very strongly.
I thought the Consumers' Association made the case, and so did several others -- I'll read the list, if you want -- as to the importance of getting a better handle on the debt. I'm just absolutely not prepared to go much further on this policy without a greater understanding of those calculations and what they're going to mean both to the valuation of the successor companies and to potential rates in the transitional period particularly.
I look around the room and I see some very able public servants. I can't believe there are people in finance and energy who would expect the Legislature to buy this without that. If we're prepared to do that, we may as well go home. I don't know what the hell we're doing here. I can't believe it.
Most of you are new and fresh and a lot smarter than some of the rest of us were. Please don't make the mistakes many of us made that brought us to this point. That's the part I find stunning. There's something really revolutionary about this, that after all we've been through, some people, I suspect at Hydro, imagine that they're going to be able, in the quiet of the summer and early fall, to slip it through in a broad enabling kind of way with none of the fine print, none of the numbers, none of the details. I'm not looking for an excuse to sign off, but I will not sign on in the absence of some of those numbers.
As I indicate in point 2, one of the issues that also arises is when you look at the residual stranded debt. I've been rereading the testimony and there's some very artful language that's been used. I'm a residential or a farm consumer. I know there's going to be some pain and I'll pay my share. I want to know that it's my share, that it's a fair share. Again, reading some of the business literature to which I made reference, it's very interesting, the stated corporate policy of some big players in this province and about the extent to which they are going to go, quite understandably, to avoid paying taxes and special charges. That's part of the dynamic of their world. I don't express any great surprise at that, but if that's what is going to animate their behaviour, I'm a small farmer down in Lincoln county or I'm a retail clerk up in Renfrew and I'm thinking, "All right, there's a multi-billion dollar debt to be paid down."
I see in this policy there is a basket of instruments, the last of which is the CTC. I understand why the CTC would be our last charge, from a theoretical point of view at least. One of the things I want to know as a residential or farm customer is, how big is the bill, how big is that stranded debt, which of the instruments are they going to apply to write down that debt and how are they going to be applied? You see, depending on which instrument you pick and how you apply it, you could affect me very differentially from my friend from Brant-Haldimand, or you could certainly affect one sector, one class of consumers over another. Because of course it's complicated, it would be very difficult to figure that out. The Market Design Committee has told us about some of the experience particularly in Britain, some of the analysis seven or eight years out. I think their second report in July talked about a study that said the British electrical consumers were still paying about $700 million or $800 million above what the market in fact should be providing. That's not a surprise.
I'm very interested to know not just what is that stranded debt, how was it arrived at, how was it apportioned, but how are we going to write that down. What are the instruments? If you're going to make a salad, I want to know, what are the ingredients of the salad and in what proportion? I think the public has a right to that information.
We'll come back to the third and fourth points at greater length perhaps later on. There is no doubt, despite some of the Hydro propaganda of the last few weeks -- I can't tell you how impressed I was by the OMA testimony, and I think everybody at Mississauga was, about the health effects of ground-level ozone, the brief we got. I know that in the short term and maybe in the intermediate term there is going to be a greater reliance on fossil fuels. Mr Osborne, at his board of trade breakfast a couple of weeks ago, adverted to the fact that they were already in that situation, for understandable reasons.
I want to know, as I indicate in paragraph 3, that the regulations have been established under the Environmental Protection Act to impose specific emission caps on fossil fuel-burning generations and to require detailed monitoring of those emissions from those facilities. I think we have a right to know. The Market Design Committee in its second report speaks to that. I'm not prepared to say, "Trust us." I think the time to do this, as we're doing with other things, is that we're going into the market. All right. At the gate we're going to establish a number of requirements, a number of benchmarks, and I think it is reasonable in the public interest that we do that. I think we had some very powerful testimony on the third point.
Again, public information: The minister I think acknowledged it in his testimony. It is just a blizzard. To be fair to the government, I think one of the government amendments talks about voiding the contracts. I support them in that because that's a recognition of just one aspect of where a lack of clear public information confuses people. That's just one. Trust me. There will be a bagful of others that none of us has contemplated. Going into this policy there has to be some clear determination that somebody is going to be responsible for a reasonable public information program to help consumers make the informed choices that they're going to have to make if this policy is going to work in ways that we all hope it does.
Mrs Johns: I appreciate your statement. What I find interesting about it -- I think we all understand how important stranded debt is. We all understand how important it is to make sure the payments aren't duplicated so we can keep the costs as reasonable as we possibly can for the people of Ontario, leading to lower prices. I think we all understand that environmental issues are very important. We've left the door open in all of this to deal with these issues.
The real crux of the issue, as I see it, is that if we follow this as you suggested, we'll get all this information together by, let's say, 2002, 2003 or 2004 if we're lucky, we'll take that information and the next day, poof, the market's open and we have chaos. What needs to happen in this marketplace is an orderly transition to move forward. What we need to do, for example, and what happens in this legislation, is that we move through with transition periods. You saw in the act where you can proclaim a section so that the Ontario Energy Board can start to license marketers.
If you say, "Nothing will happen until I'm ready to proclaim every section of this and every regulation is done," you won't be able to move through that transition period. I think that's a huge mistake in making this competitive marketplace go. We heard from a couple of the companies that had dealt with it in other jurisdictions that if you wait for it all to happen -- they're having great difficulties with it in Alberta. We need to move forward.
The difference between what I see and what you see, Mr Conway, is that I see government a little differently from what has happened in the past. What happened in the past is that you entrenched everything in legislation. You left it there and then it was really tough to change it. If we're going to do that in this particular section and we're going to say, "This is going to be right forever and ever," by God, we're in serious trouble. We need to look at this marketplace; we need to see how it evolves; we need to see what people need to create business in this community and what's good for the customer. If you continue to say, "We're going to have every i dotted and t crossed," by God, we won't have competition in energy by 2010.
Mr Conway: If it were in fact an accurate description of my position, I think that would be a fair commentary. I respectfully submit that it is not my position. Let me just clarify a couple of points.
My primary focus here -- make no mistake about it -- is around the valuations and the stranded debt. According to Mr Dorey and others at finance, there will be a valuation day and once that calculation is made, two new ponies leave the barn, one called Genco and one called Servco, and they're gone. That which they leave behind, they leave behind. This is not something we're going to do in stages, on a critical financial matter with very real potential impacts on rates. My concern is that valuation, how it's made, what it means.
Remember what Purchase told us in Ottawa? I thought it was very interesting. He said, quite frankly, that we may be worrying a little more about stranded debt and we should be spending a little more time on the governance of the successor companies. You don't have to be Albert Einstein to understand what he's telling you there. There is an opportunity for some very substantial gain as a result of that initial valuation, and there's similarly a very real possibility for some substantial pain as a result of that initial valuation, the gain coming from the companies that you send on their way. If you underestimate what they can carry, you've really sent two ponies to pasture with a very great market appeal. Pain, of course, is that you've left a disproportionately high stranded debt.
You're right to think, "He's being suspicious." Why wouldn't I be, in the absence of any information? If I'm wrong -- and I may be wrong -- just show me some numbers. I can't believe that the committee or the Legislature doesn't want to see with some greater clarity how that calculation is going to be made and what it's going to mean in terms of the successor companies and what it's going to mean in terms of a stranded debt left behind to be paid for in whatever fashion. That's my principal concern here. If the valuation was something we were going to revisit two years down the road -- but according to this legislation, we're not.
The Blair government took office, when, a year ago? One of the first things Chancellor Brown did in his first or second budget was to slap an excess profit tax on some of these birds. In the British example, as I understand it, those assets were substantially undervalued and bagfuls of money were made in the City to the benefit of certain private individuals, to the detriment of the broad British public. I hope that doesn't happen here. I don't want it to happen here.
One way that I think we can lessen the likelihood of it happening is to say, just as I would say to my banker: "That sounds like a very nice commitment you've made. Now, sir or madam, can we talk the interest rate? Is it 6%? Is it 7%? Is it 4%? Is it 5.5%? What's the valuation of the house? Is it $140,000? Is it $170,000?" You just wouldn't imagine signing on to one of these deals without that kind of basic material.
That's what I'm trying to get at here. I think there was a very strong pattern of testimony to support that. To be fair to the government, the government itself was saying, "Just give us some time and we'll get you that information, maybe not all of it, but we'll get you some of that information, enough to be useful and helpful."
It's September 28th. I'm a trusting fellow. I'm just looking for the information. I certainly can't make an informed judgment on a critical case, on a critical matter like this without -- and I don't mean to be difficult. Some of you have been in business. I haven't, but I have negotiated a few commercial transactions, and I would never sign one in the absence of this kind of rudimentary information. I can assure you I've never dealt with numbers of this order of magnitude. I say again, it's the potential here. It's not just the stranded debt, it's the valuation. What did they do with Genco? What did they do with Servco? How much did they take away? I want to know that and I want the public to know that before this bill is passed. I think they're owed that, because it's a critical piece of the equation.
Mrs Johns: A point of clarification: I want to pass it to the parliamentary assistant for finance to talk about the process. I know that Mr Conway knows this, but the difference between the England example and what's happening here in Ontario is that the assets were sold to private individuals at that time. Here, the corporations are being held by the public purse, if you will, with the shareholder being the province of Ontario and all the benefits accruing to the shareholders, the taxpayers of Ontario. It's very important not to mix up the public on that aspect. England's example is very different. We have learned from the mistakes of England, and it's important to go forward from that.
It's also important to listen to Dr Purchase. When he came to the committee he said: "I believe the legislation provides the maximum amount of security, if you like, for the customer. We can honestly say that you will only pay according to the amount of the actual stranded debt." He made a very strong case for the issue that the taxpayers, the shareholders, are all intertwined. We're paying the stranded debt today. We're paying the debt of Ontario Hydro today -- maybe because of previous governments' mismanagement; that's fine. But we are paying the debt today and we will continue to pay it in the future. This bill does not add debt to the public purse or to the shareholders of Ontario.
Mr Conway: Before the parliamentary assistant weighs in, let me just quickly, because I know others want to get in on this -- first of all, if I look at the board of trade speech from Mr Osborne just a couple of week ago, he's making it very plain. He's contemplating taking Genco and Servco, but certainly Genco -- he says it clearly. I've got it in this pile of paper and I can't find the damn thing. He says he's going off to sell and swap assets in the United States, and that's not for the first time. You know what? Good for you, Ron Osborne. Before you start down that path, all I want to know is: What are we valuing those assets at on day one? I want to know that.
Yes, I don't expect the British experience to be replicated here precisely. But you, Ms Johns, who have been on Bay Street -- you've told us about your experience there -- would certainly understand that if there's going to be an initial valuation, which is in a sense, from our point of view, a final valuation, and then Genco proceeds down the road to start selling and swapping assets, I certainly want to know what the baseline valuation was. I want to know it for Servco as well. That's a very reasonable proposition.
To this argument that we're really just recycling debt, let me say two things. It's quite clear to me that not all taxpayers and not all consumers are similarly situated as we head into this new world order. The most vulnerable group is the largest group, because by their very definition they are individuals. A homeowner in Nepean or a cottage owner in Collingwood is not going to have the focus and the power and the resources of special interest business lobbies, for example. The history of these utilities is that that's what everybody wants to get at. You want to get at that broad rate base. It's so big. You don't have to do very much to really affect things.
Dorey says at one point in this calculation -- he used the figure that one cent up or down in the price of electricity affects the stranded debt to the tune of 10 billion bucks. Am I right on that, Les?
Mr Les Horswill: Yes.
Mr Conway: That just gives you an idea of what you're talking about. This is a huge rate base. My concern is, how does the residential and farm consumer get protected, particularly in these waters that are clearly going to be shark-infested? Sharks, the last time I checked, did not have the common weal as their first and only concern.
On the debt situation, there is no question that a substantial portion of debt is currently reflected in rates, but there are billions of dollars of the Hydro debt that are not yet reflected in the rates, for reasons that the parliamentary assistant has commented upon. Some of those are downstream, costs yet to be incurred. But we have others. We've got hundreds of millions, I would guess billions, of dollars parked on a siding. You've seen me read this before. All I know is that my friend Farlinger says he's had to use the rate-setting authority of the board to take a multi-billion dollar writedown. Why? Because there's a government-imposed rate freeze. We've had in the last two or three years, what, about $10 billion worth of writedown. I'm here to tell you that not all of that writedown is yet in your hydro bill.
I will add one final observation. The fundamental question in valuation and one of the reasons I want the valuation -- and again the government has been up to some very interesting things this summer, particularly the last week of July. I don't know that you've advertised the Salomon Smith Barney RFP for Ontario Hydro Nuclear. It was a very interesting RFP. Did we ever make that public, Les? Probably not. But it's out there, a very interesting RFP.
Mr Conway: Don't make me think it, Helen.
Mrs Johns: Ontario Hydro entered into -- they can enter into any contract. How does the government of Ontario advertise contracts? You know better than that.
Mr Conway: Ontario Hydro, I'm sure without any regard to the Ontario government, retained Salomon Smith Barney to put out an RFP, apparently on the whole damn thing on Ontario Hydro Nuclear. They got some very interesting proposals. Guess what? Four days before the proposal was to be concluded at July 31, it was all suspended.
Now, one of the questions I have on the valuation issue is, what is the current state and worth and of Ontario Hydro Nuclear? It is one of the fundamental questions, not an easy question, as Ms Johns and I know, but I want to know. One of the reasons I want the valuation date is that I want to hear the latest thinking: What do you think you've got? What's it worth? What do you think you can do with it? Why did you suspend the RFP?
I don't know how you can come to any reasonable conclusion about the worth of Genco, particularly until you deal with that very basic question. We probably haven't talked enough about that in the limited time we've had. But I was really struck by the news -- not offered by any government authority, but reliable nonetheless -- that sometime around July 27 this summer, guess what? The proposal call is off; it is suspended.
So I want to know where we are with the valuation and what that tells us about the options for Ontario Hydro Nuclear. It's not an easy question, but presumably there are some answers, and I want some greater assurance on those questions before we pass the bill. To be disingenuous for a moment, I could say, make my life easy; just prove to the world that I am just hopelessly narrow, negative and nattering. Just show me. Show me the cards.
Mrs Johns: Tell us what you think is the right number.
Mr Conway: Listen, you've paid tens of millions of dollars to investment bankers to give you the number. You've paid me nothing. Well, you've paid me a few per diems for a committee. But you've got them all, according to the press. I say this very seriously. You've got an enormous concentration of financial talent at work on this. I've got to believe that you've got progress to report. I'm sufficiently contrarian to say I will not sign off on this proposition until I as a legislator and I as a taxpayer find out what Merrill Lynch, Goldman Sachs, and Salomon Smith Barney have had to say about this. Let me tell you, Bay Street is liquid with the salivations of those who can't wait for the valuation to be pronounced so the potlatch can begin.
Mr Baird: I'm very cautious to engage my colleague because we're on page 7 of a rather large --
Mr Conway: Let me tell you, this is a very key question.
Mr Baird: I certainly appreciated at the outset of his remarks, I think it would not be unfair to say, his suspicion, to be charitable, of Ontario Hydro and its past performance with respect to some of these issues and how we relate that to paragraph 1 with respect to the stranded debt in his amendment. Of course it's not Ontario Hydro itself that will come to these determinations; it'll be the Ministry of Finance and then the cabinet accepting that advice from the minister at the end of the day.
The other analogy, that you would want to go into extensive negotiations before you take on a mortgage or what would be new debt is quite true. Of course this is not new debt. It's existing debt and existing obligations. I won't take you out my pie chart again. But I wouldn't want anyone to be left with the false impression, which I think they may be, that this is somehow entering into a whole series of new debt or obligations. It's just to consolidate and evaluate those that are currently out.
Mr Conway: Just to comment, is it your position, because I mean to ask you again very directly, that all of last year's writedown is reflected in the rates?
The Chair: Mr Conway, Mr Baird has the floor.
Mr Baird: I listened with great respect for over an hour to your presentation. I was on to speak second, but I had no problem letting you interrupt three or four times, but I'd like to speak now too.
Obviously the valuation is not going to be an easy one. I think what Bryne Purchase said in Ottawa is probably true. There'll never be any final evaluation with which everyone will agree. I can bet you now that no matter what evaluation goes to Servo, it'll be too much, and the same will be said for Genco. I can bet whatever the CTC is, if it was so set, it would be too much. I expect consumers' groups will say whatever Genco and Servco get is too little. I suspect that'll be the case. But I guess that's the job of government, to deal with those competing interests and to try to take a balanced view after a considerable and thoughtful analysis, in this case from a good number of experts the government is getting advice from in these issue.
The idea is to get these evaluations by the fall. I think it's been moved up. The bar has been moved up by saying late summer, because I don't think that's a fair description of where it's been said those evaluations would follow. But I think we've got to be cautious that if we were to dot every i and cross every t we won't have competition by the year 2010, and obviously our goal is to have competition sooner than that.
Mr Lessard: That was very interesting, listening to the debate with respect to this amendment because I think we should pay attention to the experience and wisdom Mr Conway brings to this debate. He's been around here for a long time and has seen what it has led to, where we are now, the mistakes that have been made, not only by Ontario Hydro but by previous governments as well.
Why is it that we feel the need to come in with these reforms that have been set out in Bill 35? One of the reasons we have the stranded debt that we have now is based on what the member referred to in his remarks previously, the new religion back in the 1970s with respect to nuclear power. Everybody thought that was the answer then and we know that previous governments' decisions with respect to pursuing completion of the Darlington nuclear power plant is a big reason for the stranded debt we are going to end up with.
The parliamentary assistant says that part of the reason we're going ahead with this doesn't have anything to do with privatization, that the legislation is going to ensure that the province of Ontario and the people who live here are the shareholders in Genco and Servco. But the minister made it very clear when I asked him whether there were any restrictions on the privatization of Genco and Servco in the legislation. He was quite candid in saying that there weren't.
Our fear is really that that's where this government's agenda is headed, that that's where this legislation is leading us, to the privatization of the assets of Ontario Hydro. That's something that I think the public and consumers in Ontario need to be concerned about, especially if the valuation of those assets, if they do end up in private hands, is wrong and there are enormous profits made as a result of the sale of those assets.
We've heard time and time again in the submissions that have been made to this committee that the key to the success of this government's agenda, as set out in Bill 35, is dependent on the amount of the stranded debt. If it's too high or if it's too low it is going to have incredible ramifications on rates that consumers are going to have to pay, and also on the valuation of the assets and even whether there is any competition in the generation and supply of energy.
When we started down this road we were asked to take a leap of faith in passing this legislation. The reasons, the advantages in pursuing the agenda that's set out in Bill 35 are numerous. Primarily, according to the government, it is so that consumers are going to end up with lower rates. However, there is no protection for consumers in the bill whatsoever. Unless the stranded debt amount is right, then it's very likely that rates are going to increase for consumers.
My concern is that if there is going to be an increase in rates, that when the allocation of the repayment of the stranded debt is made, it's made fairly, that there are not some consumers who are going to end up being able to get a better deal than others, or finding some way of avoiding paying their fair share of the stranded debt altogether.
We've heard from people who were private generators saying: "We've never been connected with Ontario Hydro. We shouldn't have to pay any amount of the stranded debt. Leave us out of this." We had representatives of the large power consumers appear before us, saying that they wanted to be able to make their own deals with generators, that they didn't want to have to be subject to the regulations set out in Bill 35, that they should be able to buy power wherever they were able to get the best deal.
I don't even think the government is prepared to support that initiative, but that's what people are going to want to be able to do, and if you're big enough you may be able to do that, but the great majority of consumers in Ontario don't have that ability. Smaller consumers are going to end up having to pay that stranded debt and I think it's key, it's critical that we know what that amount is.
The government is saying, "We can't be expected to cross every t and dot every i before we have this bill proclaimed." That's fine and good for them to say that. We don't need to pass this amendment. But at least, if we're not going to pass that amendment, let's see the numbers. Let's find out what the stranded debt is. Let's find out how the special payments are going to be determined and what they are. What are the regulations going to be with respect to emission caps, not only for SO2 and CO2, but also other toxic emissions like mercury and lead as well?
I don't think that's really too much to ask and I think the Liberal motion in this case is really a compromise, saying that either we have this information available to us before us we are expected to vote in support of this legislation or we put this amendment in.
I think it's a very reasonable request. If the government isn't prepared to accept this amendment, then at least there should be some commitment to provide us with the amount of the stranded debt and the special payments and give us some timeline as to when we can expect those amounts, because we know that those are the key to the success or failure of what's been set out in Bill 35.
I have indicated that we're not going to be supporting this legislation. We don't think the government is headed in the right direction because we think it is going to lead towards privatization. Without knowing the amount of the stranded debt, we are fearful that the assets of Ontario Hydro are going to be undervalued and that they are going to be subject to being sold to the highest bidder for fire-sale prices. We don't want to see that happen.
The problem with waiting to determine how much the stranded debt is going to be and with whether the valuation of the assets is right or wrong being determined by the marketplace is that by the time we get to that point, it's going to be too late for residential and farm consumers to protect themselves from many mistakes we may have made in going through this process. I think we need to be very cautious and careful.
I'd like to see more regulation than less as we go down this road. I know that's not a philosophy that's shared by the government, but the least we can do is give this legislation the scrutiny it requires, and be cautious and ensure that the consumers of Ontario are protected, and that as to the benefits that have been set out in this bill for lower rates and an improved environment, we have the tools that will get us there. I'm not confident that without this information the intention of the government is going to be met. I think this is a reasonable amendment.
Mr Conway: Just a couple of things. I'm sorry, I apologize to my very sensitive friend from Nepean for intruding on his time. But let me ask this question: Is it the view of the government all of the writedowns, the incurred costs, have in fact been demonstrated, that all of that writedowns are reflected in the current rate structure at Ontario Hydro? Do you really believe that? I can't find anybody else who does. One of the things that gave the Street such gas when this thing came out last year was: "What are they doing dumping $6.3 billion? They say because they've got a rate freeze."
Again, I'm the first to accept some of those are to-be-incurred costs and they shouldn't be calculated. But we've taken -- I forget what the number is -- a calculation of something like $9 billion or $10 billion. Les, do you know the number offhand? What is the writedown in the last three years? It's $8.2 billion if you just take the last two years. So you have over $8 billion in corporate writedowns of Hydro in the last 18 months.
I just want to know -- are you still the finance minister's parliamentary assistant? -- is it the view over at finance that all of the incurred costs that are in that writedown are now reflected in the rate structure? If that is the view at finance, I want to go over and hear how they've come to that conclusion.
Mr Baird: I think with a five-year rate freeze obviously I wouldn't say that every debt would be reflected in the prices, given that they've been frozen for five years. I wouldn't suggest either that every positive aspect or every asset is reflected either. Under the legislation there are obviously pension issues which are to the benefit of consumers and are reflected in rates.
Mr Conway: I understand.
Mr Baird: So I guess it's a two-way street. That's why I would want professionals to come in and advise the government and give us a proper evaluation and ensure they take the time to get it right.
Mr Conway: You're absolutely right. That's exactly the answer I would expect you to give me and I appreciate it, because that's what I would have expected. But that being the case, we both know that there are -- that's why things like the valuation of that nuclear plant are critical to understanding where we're going here. Remember, Ontario Hydro, in terms of its assets, its debt, its power generation and its trouble, is primarily a nuclear power plant, a utility. It's got lots of other good assets and maybe the nuclear assets will turn out to be, as Osborne calls it, the hidden dream or something in that board of trade speech.
Mr Les Horswill: Jewel?
Mr Conway: Hidden jewel? It was a great phrase. I thought, "Good for Ron."
But in the here and now people like Mrs Johns and I sat there a year ago and we went through it chapter and verse and I thought, "This is a bagful of trouble."
We're talking about valuation. Let's not kid ourselves. That's the bulk of the portfolio. I just would like to know, what's the latest thinking on that? Just as the minister and the government are entitled to the latest, best information, why isn't the Legislature entitled to the same, if not at the same time, certainly at an appropriate time? An appropriate time surely, to me, is before this bill is disposed of.
I don't want to delay this thing unduly. There are problems. I can imagine some of why the government is doing what it's doing. This is not easy. Particularly, you might ask, why am I concerned about the valuation?
One of the fundamentals we're supposed to be embracing, and I think most of us do embrace, is competition, particularly in generation. The government for its own reasons has decided to depart from very strong advice it received from people like the Macdonald commission and, to a certain extent, the Market Design Committee that said you've got to unbundle Genco in some meaningful way if you're going to get the benefits of generation. That's 70% of the cost of electricity. That's what's going to be the primary driver of sending rates downward. We didn't do that. The government chose not to do that.
Because the government chose not to do that, it leaves a problem behind for Hydro because of market power. How does Hydro resolve that? Again I come back to the speeches of Mr Osborne. He says in the speech of August 11, "Over time, we will undoubtedly swap or lease some of our assets in Ontario and acquire assets in the US Northeast."
Part of the reason this has to happen is it's now the preferred strategy over at Ontario Hydro to mitigate market power in Ontario, where according to the current numbers the market would open with Genco having 86% of the market share. Because one very important decision -- we'll get to this a little bit later. This is supposed to be about competition. We're all agreed, I think. My friend here may have a slightly different nuance; I suspect not. I think everybody agrees that we want competition in generation. For whatever reason, in the white paper a year ago the government specifically ruled out that which it was told was the sine qua non of real competition -- unbundling. Everybody who knows anything about this says that if you want competition, you've got to do that. They wouldn't allow that.
Then we go to the next best measure. According to Hydro, the next best measure is we'll sell or swap some of our assets and we'll get into the United States. That was nowhere on the horizon 18 months ago when we started this, but apparently the government is onside.
All the more reason now I want to know what Salomon Smith Barney, what Merrill Lynch, what Prudential Securities are actually saying about the valuation. Are we going to let Ontario Hydro away with the good assets and leave, directly or indirectly, the underperforming, high-debt assets? I don't know, but I'd like to see that. I suspect the valuations would help me understand that.
A last question to my friend, the parliamentary assistant for energy: Is it really the plan of the government that we're going to conclude this exercise and dispose of this bill without any of that financial information being tabled to the committee? Because if the answer to that is, "Yes, trust me," I'm going to make this next few days a lot easier than any of you ever expected. If the answer is yes to that question, I almost feel illegitimate being here, I just feel embarrassed to be here. I can just hear them laughing over at Hydro at those fools. They've done it to us again.
For the new people on the block, I'm happy to let you be duped by one of the most active corporate powers in Canada. I've been duped by that crowd before. I don't intend to be hoodwinked in daylight yet again with these kinds of issues. So the question --
Mr Peter L. Preston (Brant-Haldimand): What was the answer you needed?
Mr Conway: Is it the view of the government that we should dispose of this bill in the next few weeks without any of the valuations around Servco and Genco and the corresponding data around what the best guess is going to be on stranded debt, residual stranded debt and how that's going to be disposed of using the various instruments contemplated particularly in part IV, or whatever it is, the special charges section of the Electricity Act, sections 80 to 87, I think they are. That is an important question. It's a very helpful answer, if I could get it now.
The Chair: Mrs Johns, did you wish to respond?
Mrs Johns: I want to respond, but I just don't want to be fudged in with the response; I want to have a full response. So if he just wants a yes or no, I'm not choosing to respond, but if I get to say my piece, then I'm happy to go through the process.
What's important to recognize, especially as we're dealing with this subsection here, is that we're talking about proclaiming the section and saying, "Do we proclaim all these sections now or do we wait for specific elements?" What I think is very important to recognize and what Mr Conway and probably the Liberal caucus are failing to recognize is that this is a staged transition, as I talked about before.
The commercial Genco and Servco cannot set up business and open their doors for business until such time as the evaluation day has come about and everybody knows the stranded debt, so in effect we will not be moving forward to commercialize Genco and Servco until those assets are set forward. Licensing for Genco and Servco cannot be granted until such a time as they go before the Ontario Energy Board, and the Ontario Energy Board is going to want to see those numbers. So once again, in this staged transition what is happening is that there are different proclamations happening at times and different roads available for Genco and Servco, and before Genco and Servco go down these roads, the evaluation will be out and it will be clear to everyone who speaks.
But some things have to move forward now. As we heard from the people who came before us, there is some time sensitivity to moving forward on some of these issues so some people can get ready for competition by 2000. I don't think I need to say this, but we heard this from the Municipal Electric Association, we heard this from Ontario Hydro, we heard it from new generation coming into the province, we heard it from the Ontario Energy Board. Constituents in my little town of Exeter who are rurally based would prefer us to take the time, talk to the people out there who have all the information and come back with the right number at the right time, as opposed to racing through it and coming up with this so that we can appease having it before such a date as proclamation comes in.
What's important is to get this number right and to ensure that we've consulted with a number of people. Believe me, if they tell me that the stranded debt is X or they tell Mr Conway or the stakeholder or the consumer group what the number is, we're all going to have to have faith that it was looked at from a wide range of people who had expertise in this issue. That's why the government, the Ministry of Finance, is paying these people to look at these numbers and to come up with the right numbers. We have transitions in there that stop the companies from going forward until we all get to hear these numbers. What we disagree with fundamentally is that we cannot move forward on proclaiming this bill until such time. We have heard from almost everybody who sat here that this is a good bill, it needs to move forward, there needs to be competition in the system and it should have happened 10 years ago. We have 10 lost years of competition in the electricity sector and we should move forward.
Mr Conway: On that, I think the answer to my question is no, and I appreciate that. I guess I want to say to Ms Johns, just because you say and pray that something occur is no guarantee that it's going to occur. I think an objective observer -- and we had several; they may not have been objective, but we had a number of people who are a lot more expert than I am come to the committee, for example, and say: "We think the direction for competition is right and we support it. We note, however, you're not doing some critical things that you have to do to get competition." If you want me to, I'll take you through the testimony. We had several. We had the board -- and these aren't just crackpot granola-eaters. We had the Metropolitan Toronto board of trade.
Mrs Johns: But they said it was very important to move quickly and go forward.
Mr Conway: My point is this: Just because you say that you believe in something and want something to happen is no guarantee that it's going to happen. I think an objective observer here would say that there is a very real division -- that's not the right word, but it'll do -- a very real dichotomy between what the government says it wants and what the government is actually doing. I suspect one of the reasons the government is doing it is the people who really know know exactly what kind of a horse they're riding.
My friend over here talks about privatization. You know, there's going to be privatization in this, I guarantee you. It'll be swaps, it'll be leases, it'll be minority -- Maurice Strong talked about some creative ideas for privatizing some of the assets. I've got to say, people can be opposed to this, but if people think there isn't going to be privatization, as a very given we are saying in competition we are going to give to the private sector a much greater opportunity to generate the next round of electricity. I presume we're all onside for that; I am. That's privatization; that's a fundamental change from the policy in the post-war period when Hydro put us there basically and said: "We'll do it all. We will become the monopoly generator."
I come back, though, to the basic point here, that it is just not good enough to say, "We believe in competition and we hope it happens," because I say to you, Helen, a person looking at the Market Design Committee's report at the end of June, a person who read the Macdonald committee, would be very clear about what you have to do to get competition. The government is not doing that. The government is clearly not accepting some main advice from two of its expert panels. It's keeping Hydro together to a much greater degree than was ever contemplated three or four years ago when this process began.
I guess part of what has really got me rankled now is that I can hear the laughter at 700 University, because as I said someplace along the road, this is a potential heist that will make the British train robbers look like pikers. The boys at Hydro have got themselves into a position where it appears they are actually going to be able to do the following: Keep a big whack of Genco together -- dump some of it, but none of us quite sure what; Servco -- boy, Servco's a story and then some -- keep it together and expand it. I see at the board of trade Mr Osborne tempered his language and his analogies, but it's pretty clear. Just think about that. You're sitting out there -- I don't know the man, but I didn't think he was quite as carnivorous as he sounded that day here in August. But it's quite clear what the plan for Servco is. Again, if you read the Macdonald report, the one thing they weren't planning on in southern Ontario was an expanded Ontario Hydro retail. Apparently, we're going to get that.
Then we've got the question of the debt. One of the reasons I want to know about the debt is, are they going to pull that one off too? Are they actually going to keep the good stuff together and chuck the crap and head to Tennessee? If they can pull that off, I'm going to tell you, the century will end with a Hydro performance which even Beck at his high tide would have a hard time emulating, and if this Legislature allows it to happen in the name of competition, then we will go down in some kind of history book. I'm not sure in what category.
That's why I want to know, and the reason the amendment is written as it is. I said to the legislative counsel: "What's the language to get the point? My point is, before we dispose of this I want the numbers." This is the language that those very helpful people at the legislative counsel said you have to use. There's lots of stuff that should occur. The process is well underway. I don't want to stop that. That's why my amendment particularly just says, "Before you proclaim this" -- and make no mistake about what I'm saying here -- "the following condition should be satisfied before proclamation, that the stranded debt be made public."
Is that such a radical idea? I can't believe there's a Tory around who thinks that's a radical idea. If this Legislature is going to be so supine, so quiescent, so pathetic as to say, "No, we think all is well and I'm sure they'll do it all right down at 700 University; we really need not worry; we've got good consultations underway," trust me, take my experience for what it's worth and don't put your credibility and your honour on the line for that kind of guarantee. I can't imagine you want to do it given the point at which you pick up this business.
But if it is the view that the government is going to proceed with this and there's going to be no detailed information on this subject, then I'm for moving this along really quickly, because the faster I get out of here the better, for you and for me. I tell you, I've been through some pretty pathetic charades but this will go down as one of the biggest and most embarrassing.
The Chair: Further discussion and comments? Seeing none, colleagues, I turn your attention to the amendment on the floor. It's on page 3. It's a Liberal amendment, subsection 2(3). All those in favour? All those opposed? The motion is lost.
Any further discussion on section 2? Seeing none, shall section 2 carry? All those in favour?
Mr Conway: Just hold on here. Everything is a nullity as far as I'm concerned. Do whatever you want. I don't really much care. We should have a little discussion, though, because we can make this really simple. I think we can shorten this to an afternoon. This debate is I think for me now much clearer.
The Chair: Let's go back to the question then. Shall section 2 carry? All those in favour? All those opposed? Section 2 carries.
We move next to section 3. There are no amendments on the table for section 3. Any discussion on section 3? Seeing none, shall section 3 carry? All those in favour? Opposed? Section 3 carries.
Moving now to schedule A, section 1, we have an amendment proposed. This is a Liberal amendment to schedule A, clause 1(c.1). Mr Conway, would you like to read that? It's on page 4.
Mr Conway: I move that section 1 of the Electricity Act, 1998, as set out in schedule A, be amended by adding the following clause:
"(c.1) to promote lower-cost electricity for all consumers."
A number of the deputants made the point that the policy commits to, as stated in the title of the bill, "An Act to create jobs and protect consumers by promoting low-cost energy through competition," but that it is not an object of the legislation per se. I thought the point was well made by a number of people that presumably one of the key reasons that we're engaged in this is the promotion of lower-cost electricity for all consumers. My colleagues and I in the Liberal Party believe that fairness and equity in this significant reform package surely must mean, and must be seen to mean, that we're going to have some clear language to promote lower-cost electricity for residential and farm consumers as well as big industrial consumers. Since there appears to be a lot of support among the delegations from whom we heard and since it's virtually a fatherhood/motherhood statement but was, I'm sure unintentionally, dropped from the purpose section of the bill, the amendment intends to correct that minor oversight and reinsert it.
Mr Preston: It appears there's some question whether all people will benefit. From the breakup of Union Gas and later than that the breakup of Bell telephone, you can't turn your TV on without a new, better, lower rate -- "Change to this one," "Change to that one," "Change to another one" -- on your telephone. You can't turn it on literally for any more than half an hour without being hit two or three times by just as many different telephone companies. There's no reason to suspect the same thing is not going to happen here. It has happened in two big monopolies in this province already, and both the object and the hope -- I think it's a hope that's got 100% success behind it -- is that there are going to be lower rates for all. I don't know why we need to have this as if we were saying we're proposing this just to benefit one party. Is that what you're trying to tell us?
Mr Conway: I'm a Catholic, and my religion traditionally is one that imposes a lot of responsibility and a lot of hope on the concept of faith and prayer, so the concept of deep faith is not something to which I am constitutionally foreign. Notwithstanding my religious commitment, I have found in my daily life that sometimes faith alone is not enough to ensure that some good things happen. When one looks at the title of the bill, the language is "An Act to create jobs and protect consumers by promoting low-cost energy through competition." Given that in the title, why would we not want to put the promotion of lower-cost electricity for all consumers in the purpose clause of the bill? Surely if anything has brought us here, that has.
Mr Preston: No question, but what happens to that initial period that you say is going to happen when the rates increase? Is that going to contravene --
Mr Conway: No, I don't think that's a problem.
Mr Preston: It most certainly will be if this amendment is put in there.
Mr Conway: Again, we had a number of people, the Municipal Electrical Association and others -- maybe I've got the wrong citation, but there were others, a number of people -- who came before the committee and made the point that in the old Power Corporation Act, that great Bible of yesteryear, in the purpose clause of that, one of the obligations, one of the purposes, was the production of electricity at cost, and that was the religion for decades. The new religion is not power at cost but a low-cost energy dictated by the marketplace for all consumers.
One of the concerns here is that a market in electricity is not necessarily going to provide equal benefits for everyone. If you remember the federation of agriculture in Sarnia, they made the point, and I think the government has responded, that you can't just let the market dictate the farm rate purely, because if you do, I'm going to tell you, they're going to be paying substantially more in north Hastings than they're going to be paying in the city of Belleville. Elsewhere in the market it's quite clear that if you allow a pure market to develop and to work, their big customers are going to be able to turn the market very much to their advantage, and small customers could be exposed in ways that are harmful to their rate structure.
It just seemed to me that setting out the purpose of the enterprise, the promotion of lower costs in electricity for all consumers, was stating an obvious fact to which I think we are all married. I can't imagine why we wouldn't want to put that in the bill.
Mr Doug Galt (Northumberland): Just in response, as I look at the amendment, I'm quite empathetic to the concern to promote lower-cost electricity for all consumers. Then I flip back to the purpose statement, 1(c) and (d), and it would have to be well explained to me to understand how that can help what's already here.
Clause (c) says "to protect the interests" -- and it's "protect," not "promote" -- "of consumers with respect to prices and the reliability and quality of electricity service."
Then (d) says "to promote economic efficiency in the generation, transmission and distribution of electricity."
I don't see how this can possibly add anything to what's already being said. I think it's actually being said better, although I'm empathetic to the statement they're making there; I think it's better and stronger, what's already in the purpose of the act.
Mr Conway: I think the difference is obvious. The language in my amendment, "to promote lower-cost electricity for all consumers," certainly expands on (c) and (d). The reason I offer the amendment is not only to reflect the testimony of a number of the witnesses, but the government clearly has no difficulty with the idea. Good grief. If I heard the title of the bill read once, I heard it read 20 times in the course of the exercise. The minister himself beat his breast proudly and publicly about how this was going to promote lost-cost energy through competition. Why would you be reluctant to put that breast-beating language into the purpose clause, since you've accepted it for the title? If it is not acceptable for the purpose clause, then surely a fair-minded person would say we should take it out of the title.
Mr Galt: We just don't like duplication.
Mr Preston: Redundancy.
Mrs Johns: I would just like to say to Mr Conway that there's a substantial difference between "low price" and "lower price." I certainly will have lower prices compared to what I would buy because I'm not going to continue to buy the average electricity that I'm buying now. I'm going to make consumer choices and I probably will pay more to have green power in my house to be able to help my children in their future. I don't want personally in my house the lower-cost electricity. I'm going to make some consumer choice, and this bill for the first time allows me to do that. By taking into effect "to promote lower-cost electricity," you've taken away my choice to be able to pay more and have green energy. That was never the intent of the bill.
As a parent of kids in Ontario right now, I think that's a very important thing for me to be able to choose. If I choose to spend more money to get a better quality of power so that my kids are safer in Ontario in 20 years, I should be able to have that choice. I'm just maybe not as price-sensitive as you are in this particular example. I'm here for the betterment of my children in the future.
Mr Conway: That you're purer than I am I concede immediately, but I would say to the member for Huron, her purity is covered, I think quite admirably, in the seventh of the purposes: "to facilitate energy efficiency and the use of cleaner, more environmentally benign energy sources."
Mrs Johns: I would suggest I cannot get lower-priced power if I'm going to green power, especially in the short term, because we know that wind, we know that solar, we know that all of those things are more expensive. You're closing one door to get another one, and I think you're closing the wrong door.
Mr Conway: Let me just add this: The government, in all its propaganda, offers this legislation as being the legislation that is going to deliver lower-cost energy. If the parliamentary assistant hasn't been reading the minister's speeches, I'll give her my copy.
Mrs Johns: We're going to promote low-cost power.
Mr Conway: The point I'm trying to make here is that the people who have been at the vanguard of this change are the big industrial and commercial consumers of electricity, the special interest groups that the Tory government holds closest to its expansive bosom. It is absolutely clear that they are going to get a significant, real and ongoing benefit on their rates under this policy. There is no doubt about that.
The purpose of my amendment is to make sure that in the purpose clause of this bill there is a recognition that not just the big corporate friends of the Conservative government are going to get the benefits, but that all customers, residential and farm, are also going to get a commitment that this policy is going to recognize an obligation to promote lower-cost electricity for them.
There is a very real equity issue here, and it's the same concern I was getting at a moment ago with stranded debt. A lot of people out there who look at this are nervous because what they think is going to happen, and there is some evidence of this happening in other jurisdictions, is that the big boys and girls who have the resources to lobby their happy little ways into government favour will get the very real discounts on their rates and avoid a fair share of the stranded debt.
Mrs Johns: You know that can't happen. Don't give us that.
Mr Conway: It absolutely can happen.
Mrs Johns: Are we living in Oz?
Mr Conway: That absolutely can happen. The Market Design Committee's report of some of these other jurisdictions makes it plain how it can happen. I simply make the point that if we are as a group committed to providing lower-cost electricity as an objective for all ratepayers, then let's say so. Let's put it as one of eight of the so-called purposes of the act. If you don't want to do that, then at least have the decency to strip the offensive language from the title of the bill.
Mr Preston: If my esteemed colleague thinks that "protect consumers by promoting low-cost energy through competition" is offensive, then I think you're bent. Apart from that --
Mr Conway: I just want you to put it someplace where it counts.
Mr Preston: Pardon me. I've been listening ad nauseam to your dissertation, sir, and I'd like 30 seconds of my own time.
This is not a statement from a government person, this is just a statement from a person off the street: Bulk buyers, whether you buy bread, ice cream, tomato juice or what have you -- I'll repeat those for you later if necessary -- always get a better rate. It doesn't matter what you buy. If you're a bulk buyer you're called a wholesaler, or if you're a bulk buyer you're a quantity buyer, and you always get a better rate. I'm not saying that's what's going to happen here.
My colleague said she wants to buy higher-priced power, so you refer back to here and say, "You're protected under the purposes." But when we referred you back to the purposes, to say the consumer was protected, you dismissed it out of hand. Your statement is, "You said you were setting it out." I think you were trying to set us up.
The situation is that we have said, and the general demeanour of public purchasing has said, that by breaking up Hydro you're going to get better rates. We have it in the title, we have it in our purposes, but I think you were trying to hog-tie some people who want to buy quality power instead of quantity power, and for that reason we have to say no. That's not the way it's going to be.
Mrs Johns: Two things. Thank you very much for that.
I just wanted to draw to your attention that the MEA put out a document and they said, "We see no practical way, in a competitive environment, to ask for a guarantee of lower prices for all customers, but we do believe this should be an objective for the Electricity Act."
I would like to propose, and I'm looking for unanimous consent, to amend the purpose clause, 1(a), to read "to facilitate competition in the generation and sale of electricity and competitive prices and to facilitate a smooth transition to competition."
We think that meets some of your objectives on that side, and it certainly meets our objective that people have choice, and that they may not choose to have lower prices at the expense of our environment or something along that line. So we ask that we get unanimous consent to put this in the act. I don't know if I can do this, but that would be what I would do, and that might solve all of our concerns.
Mr Conway: I'd be happy to look at the language. I'm here to be helpful.
Mrs Johns: It's in the second line of 1(a) after "electricity," and I want to add "and competitive prices." I'm saying it can't be "lower prices," it has to be "competitive prices," because people want to make choices that aren't lower price hopefully. A number of people have come along and said that green energy will be purchased and the consumer deserves to have that ability to make a choice.
Mr Conway: Listen, I'm happy to have anything that expands this. I'm not looking for guarantees. I have no idea what this market is going to do in the next 18 to 24 months. Given the world situation today, I couldn't imagine what's going to happen. I expect a big, nasty surprise. That's why I'm not going to favour guarantees. There aren't any. I would be misleading my constituents to talk about guarantees. However much I might like to do that, there is just no way I could responsibly do that.
My point here is to say we're talking about the purpose clause of the bill and language means something in some places. In effect it's window-dressing on the front page, the language "An Act to...." The purpose clause means something. It clearly sets out what the Legislature intended to be the purposes of the bill. I thought we were of a mind to say that one of the purposes of this reform legislation was to get away from those bad old days of high-cost energy that was making the province uncompetitive, all of the things I've heard from across the aisle, many of which are true. Surely the point of this was -- not the only purpose. That's why I think it would be a fair complaint to say if it was the only purpose, then absolutely, but I'm saying it's one of eight purposes.
What's the language? "To promote lower-cost electricity for all consumers." That's not to say that people aren't going to be able to make choices in the marketplace, that they're not going to be able to do as Mrs Johns rightly wants to do, but just that one of the objectives of the exercise is to facilitate the promotion of lower-cost electricity, not just for some but for everybody, recognizing that lower-cost electricity for Conway at his cottage is going to be a very different proposition than it might be for a big consumer in the Chemical Valley.
Mr Preston made a very good point about bulk. If you remember the testimony of Michael Janigan from the Public Interest Advocacy Centre up in Ottawa, he took us through their analysis of the telecom legislation and what had happened. He makes the point in that presentation that big business -- and it's no surprise, because Mr Preston is right -- people who have the power in the marketplace do expect a volume discount. I don't want to deny them that, because the market is strictly going to provide that, but what I'm saying is we want a market where there is also some recognition that there is an obligation or at least a recognition that there be lower-cost electricity for all consumers. That's the point I'm trying to get at.
If you want to stand this down and think about some language overnight -- I don't consider this very radical, I really don't. I would have thought it pretty straightforward. I don't find it exclusive of some of the other points. I'm not interested in guarantees, and I think you make a very good point, but as an objective, one of eight?
Mrs Johns: With all due respect, I think you're confusing lower prices with competitive prices. What you want to ensure is that every individual has the ability to benefit from a competitive marketplace, and that means that they have competitive prices. It is not lower prices. You've just admitted that there will be people who will not have lower prices, because of their cottage or because they choose, as I do, to have power -- I really think the words you want here are "competitive prices" and I'm prepared to deal with that issue on this.
If you're prepared to consider that, I'll stand it down, but that's the only way I'll accept it. I'm just telling you now that it's "and competitive prices." We're not going to "lower-cost electricity" because some people will not get lower-cost electricity. I don't want all the decisions made by the Ontario Energy Board when they're evaluating this that they have to find lower-cost power, because I want to be able to choose different power sources. I believe that lower cost isn't the only issue.
The Chair: Mr Lessard is up. Before we go any further, though, I think as Chair I should say that the deadline for submitting amendments is past, although we're not in a highly technical section of the bill. I will say to you that I would be prepared to consider changing that deadline if amendments were in writing and submitted. But I would caution members of the committee, if we're going to consider these kinds of things, it might be much more problematic as we go through this bill and get into highly technical sessions if we have amendments being submitted on the fly, as it were, partway through. Before we go too much further down this road about possible changes to amendments, I'd add that note of caution.
Obviously, as Chair, I want to do my best to accommodate the wishes of the committee, but I think it's appropriate that we consider what you're actually suggesting here in the longer scheme of things.
Mr Lessard: Madam Chair, I appreciate your comments because if the parliamentary assistant is asking for unanimous consent, then she might as well know what my feelings are at this point before she undertakes too much work in putting something together to amend the bill.
She asked earlier on whether we were living in Oz. I have to respond by saying, how can we have a bill that in its title says "An Act to create jobs and protect consumers by promoting low-cost energy through competition" and not have any reference in the bill to promoting low-cost energy? I just think that is beyond comprehension. Certainly that should be an objective of the bill, to promote low-cost energy through competition, and if the parliamentary assistant is telling me that's not the purpose of the bill, then I would ask for unanimous consent to remove the words "low-cost energy through" from the title.
If you want to say it's "An Act to create jobs and protect consumers by promoting competition," then that's fine with me and I would support the amendment that you are choosing. But let's not mislead people by saying in the title that we're promoting low-cost energy through competition if that's not one of the objectives of the bill. Certainly the impression I've gotten from listening to the minister's remarks is that it's his intention and expectation that the consumers are going to be able to have lower-cost energy as a result of Bill 35.
Mr Preston: What you're doing over there is interchanging two words that have altogether different meanings. We have promoted up at the top-low-cost-energy and you're saying that is the same as "lower-cost" and the two are not the same at all. This is low and that's lower. You cannot interchange the terms.
What you're trying to put through here is that whatever the cost is now, whether it be high or low, it must be lower. If you have to consult to find out what the terms "low" and "lower" mean, then I don't know why you entered into the debate. "Lower" is substantially different from "low." To say that because we've got it in the top part, we're failing to put it in the balance -- "lower" is not the same.
Mr Conway: Maybe there is an element here where we're trying to say, what is the government advertising? What the government is advertising seems sensible, so why would we not want to include that in the purpose clause as one of eight purposes of the bill? What is complicated about that?
I'm being very serious. I've heard the speeches; I've read the literature. If I'm a citizen, I'm kind of going, "After all that we've been through, that sounds like a good idea as a purpose," just as in the old order the great commitment was "power at cost." That was a driving force of the purpose of successive rewrites of Hydro legislation in this province.
According to the government's own public relations campaign, this is, in significant measure, about the promotion of lower-cost electricity for everybody -- lower than the actual cost of Darlington, to listen to some of the speeches; lower than the costs of some of the NUGs that were developed previously; in that sense lower, but lower for everybody. Not bargain basement necessarily but lower-cost energy, lower-cost electricity for all customers.
The clause "for all customers" is important, because as the Public Interest Advocacy Centre made plain when you look at the telecommunications sector in the province, the benefits are not very uniform apparently.
The Chair: Further discussion and comments? Seeing none, we are about to vote on a Liberal amendment to schedule A, clause (c.1), on page 4. All those in favour? All those opposed? It is lost.
Noting the time, I don't think we'll go into the presentation of the next amendment, so we'll begin at our next session on the NDP amendment on page 5.
There is a little bit of housekeeping that I think we should refer to. We are, according to the order of the House, to sit for clause-by-clause hearings today and Wednesday of this week, then next week on Monday and Wednesday again. What is unclear is the order from the House, standing order 46 indicates, and I'll quote, "The committee shall be authorized to meet for a fifth day of clause-by-clause consideration from 9 am to 12 pm and following routine proceedings until completion of clause-by-clause consideration."
I think there have been two schools of thought here, one that we would meet on the Thursday following the Wednesday, which is October 8, or that we would be pushed off until the following week, which would be after Thanksgiving, and that's the Wednesday. What is the wish of the committee with regard to when we'd meet?
Mr Conway: I meant what I said earlier. It's quite clear that we are going to be just ships passing in the night. If that is the case, I think we should make it easy on ourselves and we should just simply go through this, bundle these things, get it done. I'm going to grate on your nerves, you're going to grate on mine. This isn't going to change anything. Let's do what needs to be done to meet the minimum mechanical requirements of this exercise and get out of each other's way, schedule a third reading debate and be gone because this is truly pointless.
I don't want to be as irritating as I know I am to you. There's no point. This is Parliament just all screwed up and I don't want to legitimize it. We should do the mechanical stuff as a minimum. Let's not try to make this more than it is, and just dispose of it. I'd like to do a third --
The Chair: Thursday the 8th?
Mr Conway: We should be able to get it done faster than that. We've got one day for third reading?
The Chair: That would be the last day of clause-by-clause.
Mr Conway: As far as I'm concerned, I'd want one day to sort of wrap it up.
The Chair: If needed.
Mr Conway: But there must be a third reading. We get the report and third --
Mrs Johns: In the House, not here.
Mr Conway: Yes.
The Chair: No, but this is the fifth day we are allowed here because we need it for clause-by-clause.
Mr Preston: If we need a fifth day, could we make it the following Thursday?
Mr Conway: We shouldn't need a fifth day.
Mr Preston: If we need a fifth day. Rather than having -- you say we're having a meeting on October 7th, the Wednesday.
The Chair: Or we'd have to go to the Wednesday, I believe.
Mr Conway: Maybe, Helen, if you and Wayne and I -- because seriously, we should not need five days for this.
Mrs Johns: Why don't we meet as a subcommittee and talk about that? We have some preferences here if we have to go to the fifth day, and maybe we can talk about those as we go forward. I'm just worried that schedules will be booked, and we need to have the five days if we need the time.
Mr Conway: We should just --
Mrs Johns: Let's look at it realistically, Sean. We have gone through four or five amendments today out of 250, 260 or 270, maybe more than that. We have 257 and you have another 100 and something. If we continue at the same rate, we definitely will need the fifth day.
Mr Conway: There's no debate. Somebody should go and write a motion and just decide what you want to carry and get it done. Because this is --
Mrs Johns: We have to go through all the motions; that's the way the process works. Maybe none of us likes the process but that's how the process is. We have done this in every bill in this Legislature from time immemorial, so we're going to have to --
Mr Conway: No, that's not the way it used to be, and I'm just not interested because this is a charade.
Mrs Johns: Then you should talk to your House leader. Your House leader negotiated this with however many days out in the public and the balance of the time in clause-by-clause.
Mr Conway: On the assumption that there was going to be some kind of a parliamentary dialogue. There isn't going to be, so let's not make fools of ourselves. Let's just be the automatons that we're going to be and get it over with. Go to the House with a good one-day debate and go down and drop the bouquets at Hydro's door.
The Chair: I think we can accomplish both things here. You wish to be moving through this quickly. That's understood.
Mr Conway: Because there's no point.
The Chair: I also hear some requests that we finalize the date. Let's say we're going to have our fifth day on Thursday, October 8. We can book for that. If we see that there is a problem and if members want to note that to me, then perhaps we can revisit it, but at this point we'll tentatively book that.
Colleagues, we'll stand adjourned and we'll reconvene on Wednesday at 3:30.
The committee adjourned at 1757.