Sudbury

Liberals 'bungled' Ontera sale, new figures show

​The opposition parties pounced Tuesday on public accounts showing the Ontario government took a $61 million loss on the sale of a Crown agency, and paid more for consultants than it received for the telecommunications company Ontera.

Public Accounts report states 'a loss on disposal of shares of Ontera' of almost $61 million

PC finance critic Vic Fedeli says a new public accounting report shows Bell Aliant picked up a $70 million company — Ontera — for $6 million. (The Canadian Press/Frank Gunn)

​The opposition parties pounced Tuesday on public accounts showing the Ontario government took a $61 million loss on the sale of a Crown agency, and paid more for consultants than it received for the telecommunications company Ontera.

Ontera, an arm of the Ontario Northland Transportation Commission, was sold to Bell Aliant in 2014 for $6 million, but newly released figures show the government paid $6.5 million for lawyers and consultants to advise it on the sale.

"They're a laughing stock. They bungled the sale," Progressive Conservative finance critic Vic Fedeli told the legislature.

"How can the Liberals expect the people to trust them with the sale of Hydro One when they lost $61 million selling a smaller asset like Ontera?"

The telecommunciations arm of Ontario Northland — Ontera — was sold to Bell Aliant for $6 million.

The Public Accounts report states "a loss on disposal of shares of Ontera" of almost $61 million and "the government provided a one-time contribution of $52,092,000 to support the sale" of the Crown corporation.

The government cannot justify such an "insulting and outrageous" loss, said Fedeli.

"It sure was a heck of a deal for Bell," he said. "They've picked up a $70 million company for $6 million. This is pure Liberal math."

Hydro One sale questioned

The New Democrats said it's obvious the Liberal government is not making deals that benefit taxpayers, and expressed similar concerns about privatizing 60 per cent of Hydro One, which the government hopes will raise $9 billion.

"We're going to see the same thing with Hydro One, and yet the government says: 'just trust us,"' said NDP Leader Andrea Horwath. "How can anyone trust a government that continues to get such bad deals?"

Northern Development Minister Michael Gravelle admitted there were "short-term costs" associated with the sale of Ontera, but insisted they were outweighed by the cost of continued ownership of the agency.

"The fact is the long-term costs of continuing to operate that telecommunications wing truly would have been far more damaging," he said.

Money from the sale of Ontera will help the government keep the remaining portions of the ONTC in public hands, added Gravelle.

"The sale of Ontera was one of the decisions that was necessary to focus on the key transportation infrastructure needs of the Ontario Northland Transportation Commission," he said. It was "ironic" that Fedeli is criticizing the sale of Ontera because he wanted the government to privatize the entire ONTC, said Gravelle.

After shutting down the heavily subsidized passenger rail service run by the Ontario Northland Transportation Corporation in 2012, the Liberals announced they would sell the Crown corporation. But they changed their minds after the auditor general warned a sale could cost up to $820 million, rather than saving $260 million over three years as the Liberals hoped, and decided to sell only Ontera.

The publicly owned ONTC still provides passenger bus services, plus freight transportation in northeastern Ontario and northwestern Quebec along its 1,100-kilometre rail system.

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