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Frozen Toronto: The Privatized Power Outage

How Much Worse Would It Be In Saskatchewan?

by Daniel Johnson

Friends of mine in Toronto posting the occasional message from their phones about the ongoing widespread power outages over the past couple days have talked about the 'extreme cold' that has set in, with temperatures plunging to minus 14. So far 5 people have died in Ontario and Quebec from carbon monoxide poisoning as a result of propane heaters and indoor fires with no ventilation, no word on freezing deaths so far. 

Sitting inside in front of my computer, warm despite a slight breeze through a rip in the plastic on my windows I could see on the weather network that here in Regina it was minus 32 with a wind chill making it minus 48.  

A power outage in the winter lasting over a day in Regina would cause multiple fatalities, no question. But that hasn't happened here, ever, and it won't as long we Saskatchewan doesn't make the same tragic mistake that Ontario and Quebec made. 

In 1998, Ontario passed the Energy Competition Act which privatized Ontario Hydro and authorized the establishment of a market in electricity, reorganized Ontario Hydro into five companies: Ontario Power Generation(OPG), the Ontario Hydro Services Company, which is now called Hydro One, the Independant Electricity System Operator, the Electrical Safety Authority, and Ontario Electricity Financial Corporation.

Then they detached Ontario Hydro's $19.5 billion debt, which is still being paid down through a Debt Retirement Charge by Ontario ratepayers.

In Saskatchewan, we rely on a single crown corporation called Sask. Power, it has no competition so it can focus on delivering power effectively, and keeps up with maintenance because that's it's job, and consequently power outages here are rare, and Sask Power has never left thousands of people in the dark for days at a time. 

Competitiveness is an interesting thing. Competition for profits means, necessarily, that either more will be paid by consumers for the service, or less will be spent on delivering that service. That is simply market law, and for necessities like electricity in a cold climate, spending less delivering the service puts lives at risk. 

The free market has it's place, but it's place is not in necessary services like health care, power, energy, water, etc. We don't benefit from providers of necessary services competing with each other, we benefit from them providing the necessary service for it's own sake, because it is a necessary service. 

 People in Ontario should never forget this lesson, and I hope people in Saskatchewan aren't doomed to repeat it. 


Howard Hampton (2003). Public power: The fight for publicly owned electricity. Toronto: Insomniac Press

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