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Sunday, March 3, 2024
Opinion: Ontario PCs’ selling assets means short-term gain for long-term pain
Keith McNenly was the chief administrative officer of the Town of Mono for 41 years until his retirement in 2016. SUPPLIED

Keith McNenly
Special to The Lake Report

What is it with Ontario Progressive Conservative politicians that as soon as they gain power they have to find a public asset to give to a foreign company for 100 years? 

Russia’s czar sold Alaska to the United States in 1867, (the year Canada was born; wish we’d bought  it) for $7.2 million. 

Napoleon offered the Louisiana Purchase, (the middle of the United States from the Gulf of Mexico to the Canadian border), more than 2 million square kilometres of land, for $15 million,  less than 3 cents per acre. Think about that when you watch the new movie “Napoleon” at the  cinema. 

If I was French or Russian I’d be ticked off even today. You can’t get land back, and no matter the desire for the cash at the time, selling the people’s assets to another country or a private company is just not smart.  

Which brings me to the province’s Progressive Conservative Party, sadly.  

As an Ontario taxpayer, the surprise sale of our brand new Highway 407 still rankles today. It’s beyond comprehension that the province didn’t impose toll rate controls in the sale. What were they thinking? 

I recently had a need to get from Niagara-on-the-Lake to Peterborough quickly in midday and found it would  cost me over $100 round trip using the 407.  

The Progressive Conservative politicians under Mike Harris sold Highway 407 for $3.1 billion in 1999. It had been projected it would be paid off and be a free highway by 2029, about five years from now.

Instead, Harris and his Progressive Conservative government sold/leased the 407 for 100 years. Did he include an automatic renewal? Will some future generation of Ontario ever get it back? 

Profits for the investors of the new owners of the 407 will continue to be exponential, having actually doubled from about a quarter-billion dollars in 2022 to nearly a half-billion in 2023.

The highway is now owned by subsidiaries of the Canada Pension Plan Investment Board (total 50.01 per cent), Spain’s Cintra Global S.E. (43.23 per cent) and AtkinsRéalis Canada Inc., formerly SNC-Lavalin Inc. (6.76 per cent).

Highway 407 was conceived and built by the NDP for working-class Ontarians as an alternative to the congested Highway 401, to get commuters safely and quickly to their jobs and home again to their families each working day.

It is now primarily a highway for the rich. 

And this brings me to the Ontario asset sale of 2023.  

Doug Ford and his Progressive Conservatives are leasing Ontario Place to a  foreign company for 95 years to build a spa for the rich people in Toronto. It means less access to the city’s waterfront for the common folk.

Most of the Toronto waterfront has already been covered with luxury condo towers. Sounds similar to the 407 debacle: some of the most valuable land in Canada, on the largest city’s waterfront, taken from the poor and given to the rich. 

Do you remember what you used your share of Mike’s 407 sale money for in 1999? I don’t either.

Right now, since ordinary Ontario citizens can’t afford to drive on the ludicrously expensive  407, Premier Doug is planning a new Highway 413 through the Niagara Escarpment and sensitive wetlands even farther north of Toronto.

Highway 401 is too busy and commuters simply won’t pay the ridiculous unregulated tolls for the underused 407.  

By the way, do you remember the highly significant 407 lease or the lease of the best Toronto waterfront lands being part of the Progressive Conservative election platforms?

No? That’s because these asset sales weren’t in their election platforms. Funny that.  

Now I’m back around where I started. Emperor Napoleon sold millions of square kilometres of North America for short-term cash and a forever loss to the French people. Czar Alexander sold Alaska for short-term cash and forever loss of Russia’s part of North America.  

Mike Harris and Doug Ford’s Progressive Conservative governments are selling off Ontario’s best assets to outside interests, a forever loss for ordinary Ontario citizens.  

I’m off to the cinema now to see the “Napoleon” movie, but while I watch him lose the war, my mind might drift to the middle third of the United States that he sold away from France, the $100 trip I didn’t pay to take on the 407 across Toronto, and maybe the new spa I’ll never go to  on sensitive Toronto waterfront lands.

But mostly I’ll be thinking about the fact our Progressive Conservative premiers are such short-term thinkers. 

Keith McNenly was the chief administrative officer of the Town of Mono for 41 years.

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