After months of community involvement, on July 7, 2017, Wasaga Beach council voted unanimously keep Wasaga Distribution Inc. (WDI) public. With the help of the Keep Hydro Public Coalition, local residents successfully pressured their municipal council to retain and grow the local distribution company, rated as one of Ontario’s most efficient hydro providers with the lowest electricity cost in the province.
The community was looking forward to a public council meeting on July 18, where more than 1000 local supporters were expected to attend. Instead, with a sole member of the community in the audience, Councillor Stockwell asked for permission of the Council to break traditional protocol during an emergency council meeting convened to consider a single municipal lease. Councillor Sylvia Bray and Deputy Mayor Bifolchi appeared to have been blindsided by the move.
The discussion at the council table included criticism directed at the residents of Wasaga Beach by the Mayor and Councillors Stockwell, Ego, Smith and Belanger.
Councillor Bray and Deputy Mayor Bifolchi reiterated their ongoing position of not selling and expressed disappointment in the method by which the vote was being moved forward. Councillor Bray pointed out that the community may look at the decision as a cowardly way of avoiding public scrutiny.
“The incredible staff at Wasaga Distribution might be able to sleep a little better this evening. You do an incredible job of serving this community. You are a public service. WE ARE THAT PUBLIC, and we have got your backs!” said Mark Winegarden, a local resident who has been leading the fight in Wasaga Beach.
“Congratulations to the people of Wasaga Beach for stopping the sale of your local hydro system. You are an inspiring example of what we can accomplish when we come together and hold our political decision makers accountable,” said Fred Hahn. “If only Premier Wynne had listened to the people of Ontario the way your local councillors eventually listened to you, we wouldn’t be in the mess we are today.”
Lawyer Mark Rodger has been advising the Council to sell WDI since 2016. Mayor Brian Smith sat on the Board of Directors for WDI because of his position as Mayor. He claimed to be forced to wear two hats and as a board member felt the need to recommend a sale, but as Mayor, the delays began. Most of the Council members appeared to be persuaded by the presentation to sell WDI in October of 2016, however Deputy Mayor Nina Bifolchi and Councillor Sylvia Bray, were strong opponents from day one.
Thousands of residents became engaged, demonstrating their opposition to privatizing the local utility. With the persistent efforts of local volunteers, over 4200 Keep Hydro Public lawn signs were distributed in the community and over 8000 petition signatures were collected from residents opposed to privatizing WDI.
Residents kept pressuring Council members by voicing their strong opposition to selling WDI during Council meetings and through emails. The public pressure forced Mayor Brian Smith, who has been a strong proponent of selling WDI, to announce that he will not support the sell of WDI.
Wasaga Beach volunteers are a shining example for the rest of the Province on how we can win back the ownership of Hydro One through grassroots campaigning. Keep Hydro Public is grassroots movement supported by CUPE Ontario, OPSEU, and Unifor along with other community groups and unions.
For more information, contact:
Doly Begum, Keep Hydro Public Coalition, 647-998-3659