ALDRICH: NDP continue to cry wolf on Hydro privatization

Provincial NDP leader Wab Kinew speaks with media ahead of its alternative throne speech during a press conference in its caucus room at the Manitoba Legislative Building in Winnipeg on Tuesday, Oct. 6, 2020.

Wab Kinew is testing the limits on just how many times he can cry “wolf.”

The Manitoba NDP leader was back at it again on Wednesday bellowing about the province’s plans to privatize Manitoba Hydro due to the request for a proposal they uncovered for access to MH’s fiber network to bring in a private company to deliver broadband service to rural Manitoba.

There are no MH assets — and I cannot emphasize this enough — being sold off. Manitoba Hydro through this RFP would still maintain its ownership of the telecommunications network, initially installed so Hydro workers could communicate while working on projects around the province.

What the province is doing is actually generating revenue out of an asset that was not being used. They will be receiving millions of dollars a year from a company paying to access infrastructure already in place. It is a private-public partnership.

It is not privatization.

Further, it was never a secret ploy as the NDP is trying to make it appear. They have talked openly about issuing the RFP and about their intentions to bring improve cell service and broadband internet throughout rural and remote areas of Manitoba.

“This RFP is the opportunity to make use of resources that have remained stagnant the entire tenure of the NDP,” said Crown Services Minister Jeff Wharton in an emailed statement.

This goes beyond false claims about privatization.

This is about delivering a service as close to equal levels in rural Manitoba as they can to what is received in urban centres. This is a competitive process to, as the RFP puts it, “Best serve the interests of the Manitoba Government and Manitobans.”

Best serving the interests of Manitobans would not be delivering a top-end private system from a company that specializes in telecommunications and already has their own service delivery method in place and available to cities, then having the government cobble together their own delivery method and service in rural Manitoba. There should not be two standards.

Further, the government has no right in competing against private business to maintain a monopoly. The government should be cultivating opportunities for private businesses to invest in the province to create jobs and tax revenue. In this case, the government also gets additional revenue through payment for accessing the network.

The pandemic shows just how critical this infrastructure is for the health and progression of the province. I have lived in rural towns and villages in other provinces with awful connectivity and it absolutely impairs the day-to-day life in a world that is going full speed ahead with an online economy and society. Even when it comes to something as simple as improving the ability of kids on a reserve or in remote corners of Manitoba to learn remotely and at an affordable price is needed more than ever.

Just because the NDP claims it is privatization does not make it so. They clearly have difficulty grasping the concept when they continue to go to the well with Teshmont. Teshmont is a private company formed in the 60s that the province bought a 40% equity stake in almost 40 years later to complete their Bipole III project, a stake they sold back to Stantec two weeks ago. You can’t privatize a company that is already private and has always been private.

It is money they can put towards paying down the multi-billion dollar Hydro debt that is largely in place due to the mismanagement of the NDP.

Just as selling access to the broadband network will also alleviate strain and risk to Manitoba taxpayers and deliver a necessary service all while maintaining ownership of the property.