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Time to end uneven electricity prices: Rodriguez

If elected mayor, John Rodriguez says he would lobby the province to sell Hydro One assets in the city to Greater Sudbury Utilities, ensuring all residents pay the same lower rate.
A panel from Northern Life and Northern Ontario Business are conducting live interviews with the leading candidates for mayor in the Oct. 27 municipal election. Today our panel will interview former mayor John Rodriguez. The event can be seen live at beginning at noon. File photo.

If elected mayor, John Rodriguez says he would lobby the province to sell Hydro One assets in the city to Greater Sudbury Utilities, ensuring all residents pay the same lower rate.

While Hydro One customers have seen rates steadily increase in recent years, Rodriguez said distribution rates at the GSU have declined by 4.1 per cent over the last five years, while returning $23 million to the city. That means Hydro One customers in the city pay as much as 45-100 per cent more in distribution charges than GSU customers.

The disparity dates back to amalgamation in 2000, when several municipalities served by Hydro One became part of Greater Sudbury.

“Two sets of hydro customers emerged,” Rodriguez said Friday, standing outside the GSU office on Regent Street. “It created a deep division among residents and many have expressed to me their desire for a hydro system that moves our community forward again.”

Hydro One has 35,000 customers in the city, while the GSU has 47,000 in Sudbury and West Nipissing. While the province rejected previous attempts to merge hydro customers affected by amalgamations in Hamilton and Ottawa, as well as Sudbury, Rodriguez said the mood at Queen's Park has changed.

A Canadian Press story this week said Premier Kathleen Wynne is having an expert panel look at provincial assets such as Hydro One, looking for ways to get added revenue, while still keeping them in public hands. It's a process Wynne said would have prevented Ontario’s previous Tory government from signing “such a bad deal” to sell Highway 407, which she said cost Ontario billions in lost revenue.

Raising cash from provincial corporations is one of the ways the Liberals hope to slay the $12.5-billion provincial debt by 2018. Wynne has indicated she's looking to raise $3.15 billion from “asset optimization,” while keeping Crown corporations in public hands.

That dovetails perfectly with what he has in mind, Rodriguez said.

“Now it seems, the time is right,” he said. “We must do this to move this city forward.”

*Rodriguez's proposal stands in direct contrast with the platform of another mayoral candidate, Dan Melanson. He wants the city to consider selling Agilis, the telecommunications company owned by the GSU, and get out of other municipal services the city is not required to offer.

That includes anything that’s not “a core municipal service” – including arenas, city-owned trailer parks and Pioneer Manor.He argues it would be worthwhile to see how much money they could raise, considering the $1-billion infrastructure deficit in roads and sewer the city is facing.

“Why do we need to keep raising taxes to pay for programs that we are not mandated to pay for?” Melanson said at his campaign launch in June. “Why not divest ourselves of programs and services instead of raising taxes?”

But Rodriguez said public ownership has meant lower hydro bills for GSU customers, and millions in revenue for this city. If the city were to sell GSU, “the first thing you would notice is a jump in your rates.

“Why would you want to kill the goose that lays the golden eggs?” Rodriguez said Friday. “This election is about leadership that can move Greater Sudbury forward.”
Rodriguez is campaigning to take back the job he held from 2006-2010. He lost to current Mayor Marianne Matichuk, who's not running for re-election in the Oct. 27 municipal vote.

An Oraclepoll survey conducted in May showed Matichuk had the support of 38.1 per cent of decided voters, followed by Melanson (17.5 per cent), Rodriguez (15.9 per cent) and Ward 5 Coun. Ron Dupuis (14.3 per cent).

However, 28. 4 per cent of voters were still undecided.

*Correction: An earlier version of this story said Melanson wanted to consider selling the GSU. In fact, Melanson says he only supports such a process for the GSU-owned Agilis. Northern Life apologizes for the error.

Darren MacDonald

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