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Public power advocates label MOU a “backroom deal”

Gord Vickers of the Public Power Coalition is accusing the mayor and councillors of signing a "backroom deal" in allowing the Oshawa Power and Utilities Corporation of signing a memorandum of understanding with Whitby Hydro and Veridian of investigating a potential merger. A legal source tells The Oshawa Express that the utility was well within its mandate to sign the agreement, but would need council approval to go through with any mergers.

Gord Vickers of the Public Power Coalition is accusing the mayor and councillors of signing a “backroom deal” in allowing the Oshawa Power and Utilities Corporation of signing a memorandum of understanding with Whitby Hydro and Veridian of investigating a potential merger. A legal source tells The Oshawa Express that the utility was well within its mandate to sign the agreement, but would need council approval to go through with any mergers.

By Joel Wittnebel/The Oshawa Express

City council has taken a back seat and allowed the OPUC to sign a “backroom deal” regarding a possible merger, public power advocates claim.

At the most recent meeting of council, Gord Vickers and Rob Goheen with the Public Power Coalition and Unifor Local 222 retirees chapter took councillors to task for what they see as the city allowing an unelected body to make decisions that affect taxpayers.

Vickers reiterated his call for a referendum on the issue, claiming it should be up to the people who own the utility.

“You don’t own this,” he told councillors. “You’re only caretakers until the next election.

“A referendum will answer this once and for all.”

And regardless of a merger or sale, Vickers said he was “disturbed” with how the process had been handled so far.

When the announcement of the memorandum of understanding signed between the Oshawa Power and Utilities Corporation, Whitby Hydro Electric Company and Veridian Corporation was made in late April, many were caught by surprise as the issue had not gone before council previously.

The last meeting council had with the OPUC was in December for an education and training session that was closed to the public. That meeting is currently under investigation by the provincial ombudsman over allegations it was closed improperly.

And without the mayor or councillors involved in the signing, Goheen and Vickers are saying the MOU is a “backroom deal.”

It was a phrase that had Councillor Nester Pidwerbecki agitated in the council chambers.

“Could you tell me where you’re getting this phrase, backroom deal, because I don’t know of any,” he said, indicating that perhaps the city had given approval of the MOU process before the announcement.

“Wouldn’t it just indicate that we have said yes, go ahead and investigate what this is all about and come back to us and give us the pros and the cons?” Pidwerbecki said.

However, Vickers was not convinced of Pidwerbecki’s defense, arguing that it is not within the OPUC’s mandate to make such decisions.

“I elect you people,” he said. “I don’t elect the PUC, I could care less about the PUC management.”

Speaking with a legal source who wished not to be named, The Oshawa Express has learned that under the shareholder’s declaration between the OPUC and the city, the OPUC is well within its mandate to sign an MOU without council approval and investigate any possible mergers.

As a separate incorporated business, the OPUC have complete control of its day-to-day operations and will only need council approval prior to any potential merger agreement.