Manitoba

Tories deny NDP claim that newly announced review signals move to privatize Manitoba Hydro

Manitoba Hydro has hired an independent firm to review its operational costs, leading Manitoba's New Democrats to claim the Progressive Conservatives are laying the groundwork for privatization.

PricewaterhouseCoopers operational review is part of strategic plan to better plan for future: Hydro

Manitoba Hydro announced Friday that PricewaterhouseCoopers will review the Crown corporation's operational costs. (CBC)

Manitoba Hydro has hired an independent firm to review its operational costs, leading Manitoba's New Democrats to claim the Progressive Conservatives are laying the groundwork for privatization.

The Crown corporation denies the claim, saying the review by PricewaterhouseCoopers is part of its 20-year strategic plan to better plan for its future.

"This study by PricewaterhouseCoopers was not commissioned by the government, but by Manitoba Hydro," spokesperson Scott Powell said in a prepared statement.

"To be absolutely clear, we are not aware of any plans to privatize Manitoba Hydro."

The review was announced by Hydro's new CEO, Jay Grewal, in a letter to all workers on Friday.

NDP Leader Wab Kinew held a press conference Friday afternoon in response to the letter, which he said is a signal that the Tories are moving to privatize Hydro — a claim the NDP have made repeatedly since the Pallister government was elected in 2016, and which has been reiterated throughout the current election campaign. 

In a prepared statement, the Tories, who are seeking re-election on Sept. 10, repeated their insistence they don't intend to privatize the Crown utility.

"A re-elected PC government has no plans to privatize Manitoba Hydro and will work to make sure it remains sustainable and publicly owned," the party said in the statement.

The PCs also confirmed the review was a Hydro decision.

"We understand it was an operational decision made in the interest of developing a strategic plan that aligns with the best interests of Hydro customers."

PC Leader Brian Pallister dismissed the NDP's concerns about privatization at a media event in Brandon Friday afternoon.

"They've run on that fear [the] last five campaigns in a row," Pallister said, pointing to Manitoba law that requires governments to hold a referendum before privatizing Crown corporations.

"We've brought in strengthening legislation to make sure that if there's any decision on selling anything — Hydro, MPI, anything else — [it] has to go to the people first, because the people are the owners of Hydro."

Grewal said the review, which will happen over the next eight weeks, will look at the structure, processes and governance of the corporation.

"I initiated this review to address some of the challenges we are facing today," she said. 

Employees are likely concerned, she said, following the PC Party's announcement on Wednesday if re-elected, they would once again ask Crown corporations to cut back on senior management positions by 15 per cent.

Grewal says Hydro already reached those targets through its voluntary departure program. The corporation has also seen a 30 per cent reduction in senior management, she said.

"There is no indication that government will be seeking further reductions in staffing levels from Hydro," said  the Hydro CEO.

"The PwC review is not being driven by a mandate to reduce staffing levels further."

About the Author

Kristin Annable is a member of CBC's investigative unit based in Winnipeg. She can be reached at kristin.annable@cbc.ca

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