The issue of electricity - how much we have, who makes it and who sells it - has been a thorn in the side of Ernie Eves throughout his term as leader of Ontario's Conservatives.
Along with the reins of government, Eves inherited responsibility for Ontario Hydro's crippling debt and a controversial Tory plan to partially privatize the public utility. He proceeded with the privatization solution, launching a stormy tenure as premier that was marked by unpopular decisions and, ultimately, a complete policy reversal.
One could be forgiven for thinking that such a track record would leave the Tories vulnerable on the election trail. For their part, the New Democrats have fashioned their entire campaign around the theme of "Public Power," with an emphasis on keeping the province's electrical transmission and generating systems entirely in public hands.
But the fact is, all three of the major parties bear some responsibility for our now-faltering electrical system: the Tories, who gave the green light to the disastrous Darlington nuclear plant project; the Liberals, who ignored Darlington's massive cost overruns; the New Democrats, who froze power rates even as Ontario Hydro's debt continued to mount.
"No question, mistakes have been made in relation to this system," said Mitch Rothman, a chief economist with Ontario Hydro from 1982 to 1993. "And for those kinds of mistakes, all three parties bear some blame."
||AUDIO: Ottawa Morning's
Lucy van Oldenbarneveld speaks with the CBC's Karina Roman (part 1) and Karla Hilton (part 2) about the political impact of the Aug. 14 blackout:
PART ONE: (Sept. 3, runs 7:46)
PART TWO: (Sept. 4, runs 8:14)
Darlington was the most costly mistake, and remains one of the most problematic nuclear power stations in Ontario, said Tom Adams, executive director of Energy Probe.
"Its cost overrun fundamentally weakened Ontario Hydro's financial position and was the largest single cause of the utility's financial collapse," Adams said.
The challenge for each of the three major parties in this campaign is threefold: whoever governs will need to pay down years' worth of accumulated Hydro debt, keep electricity prices within reach for consumers, and find ways of paying for upgrades to generating capacity and transmission lines.
How will they do it? See their promises to the left.
How did they get here? Below, we pick highlights from the life of Ontario Hydro, dated from the birth of the Darlington facility:
1970: Conservative government of John Robarts acquires land near Bowmanville for creation of the Darlington nuclear plant.
1973: Engineering studies done for Darlington. The new generation of nuclear plant was designed with sophisticated computer systems that would provide significantly upgraded shutdown safety design, and would allow it to adjust its output.
1976: Tory government of Bill Davis gives Darlington project an exemption from public environmental assessment review.
1978: Cabinet approves Darlington spending. Early estimate projects that the four-unit station would be completed by 1983 at a cost of $2.5 billion.
1983: Initial deadline for completion of Darlington project comes and goes.
1985: After 42 years in power, the Tories are toppled by a coalition of Liberals and New Democrats. The new government contemplates cancelling the Darlington project, but relents when Ontario Hydro officials offer assurances that the plant is almost complete.
1987: Liberals under David Peterson win majority in general election.
1989: Darlington takes its first of four units fully online.
1990: New Democrats under Bob Rae win general election. In an attempt to deal with the "gigantic" debt amassed by Ontario Hydro, government orders cuts to maintenance costs.
1993: Construction completed at Darlington, a decade late and at a total cost of $14.4 billion. Ontario Hydro is now billions of dollars in debt; nonetheless, the NDP government imposes a rate freeze, saying the price consumers are being charged for electricity represents "power at cost."
1995: Tories return to power under Mike Harris. They leave the NDP rate freeze in place, but announce intention to solve the Ontario Hydro debt problem by breaking up the public utility's monopoly on power generation and transmission.
Oct. 30, 1998: Energy Competition Act comes into effect. It's the road map to a deregulated electricity market. For details see Deregulation Recap.
June 2000: Eyeing problems with electricity deregulation in other jurisdictions, the Harris government delays the date for deregulation indefinitely. It was originally set for Nov. 1, 2000.
December 2001: Tories announce the market will open May 1, 2002. Harris also announces that Hydro One will be sold in a share offering expected to be worth $5 billion.
March 2002: Ernie Eves succeeds Harris as Tory leader and premier.
April 2002: Ontario Superior Court rules that the government does not have the right to sell shares in Hydro One.
May 2002: Government proceeds with plan to sell off Hydro One, and to let electricity prices float at market levels. In the hot summer that follows, the province's generation capacity is not sufficient to meet demand; consumers grow alarmed at skyrocketing prices.
June 2002: Eves backs off plans to privatize Hydro One, cancelling what was expected to have been the biggest public share offering in Canadian corporate history.
July 2002: Hydro One CEO Eleanor Clitheroe is fired after details of her compensation package are made public.
November 2002: Faced with a looming consumer revolt, Eves reverses the deregulation plans and announces a rate cap of 4.3 cents per kilowatt-hour until at least 2006. The move killed business for electricity resellers, and eliminated the incentive for private companies to build generating plants.
Aug. 14, 2003: Massive power failure plunges most of the province into darkness. Province's generating stations - including Darlington - enact emergency shutdown procedures, and aren't fully up to speed again until a week later.