Navigant, the City’s consultant in the proposed sale of Peterborough Distribution Inc., made its presentation to City Council and those who came out for the meeting at Market Hall last night. I’m pleased that Navigant didn’t make a recommendation, as that would have been inappropriate and would have gone over like a lead balloon.
I wasn’t there, as I was at the Petes game last night, but I read Navigant’s report online. And in this debate I’m trying to focus on the facts, rather than the emotion. True, it appears that the sale of PDI smacks of being a foregone conclusion just the way the public meetings have been handled with the focus put squarely on the positives, rather than the drawbacks.
A proper debate needs all the information available on both sides. If we haven’t had that balance up to this point, hopefully we have it now. The facts are compelling, and separating the emotion and the fear of change out of the equation, it’s kind of looking like a prudent thing to do given the crystal ball that everyone is trying to peer into.
It doesn’t look like we have a whole lot of control over the rates we’re charged for juice that flows through those lines anyway. That’s set for us at the provincial level. That leaves us with the choice of either seizing control now to make the decision to sell at the juncture (when maybe we don’t have to) for $55 million, or hang onto PDI, only to find that we have to sell down the road and get less for it.
What I worry more about is service. Service from PDI has been exemplary. Hydro One has a reputation for being less so, and they can spout all they like about customer service, it will be a long time before folks let go of their suspicion of those motives. Hydro One will have to prove it to us, and that’s a tall order.
Beyond that, the big issue is what to do with the $55 million-plus. Yes, invest it. And perhaps create a Foundation with the investment proceeds that could, in turn, be re-invested in deserving community initiatives. No, not roads and the Parkway, but things that would, and will make our lives culturally better.
Two things: whichever way this goes, let’s give our Council members the benefit of the doubt in terms of their preparedness, their courage, and yes their willingness to serve. Many complain, but few step up to serve. This group has stepped forward – with different motivations, different visions, different mandates. But their motives are sound, and should be respected. Our public servants die a thousand inner deaths with each major decision such as this, and we need to thank them, and respect their wise counsel.
It is also, at times like this, when individual Council members need to weigh the entire community in their decision, not just their individual wards. And even if everybody shows up at a meeting saying, collectively YES! or NO! Council members need to vote based on what they have seen, what they have read, what they hear from that inner voice in their quiet times, and then get up and read the research some more. They do that. We have elected them to do that. And the vast majority of critics who claim to have read the same reports and say “shame on you, Councillors, if you vote to sell” have not stepped up themselves to serve on Council. A few, yes but not all. We’re all armchair coaches. But do we dare, would we dare to actually coach the team?
The public meetings may not have been perfect, or balanced. But at least there have been meetings. Citizens have been invited to come out and speak their minds. It’s important for Council to listen, and I believe that in this situation, they have listened. They must. But there is a difference between listening, and heeding. It’s not the same thing. Council may, or may not heed the comments of those who have spoken, if they think with all the best information in front of them – and I pray that’s the case – that the way forward is one that proves, at the outset, unpopular.
There was another debate many years ago, involving what is now the King Street Parkade. King Street was one option. The other was the building at the northeast corner of George and King where the Innovation Cluster headquarters is going. There was a massive hue and cry that the world would end if the King Street site was selected, which would mean going over top of Jackson Creek. How could you?
In the end, Council made a difficult decision. The world didn’t end. The Parkade went over Jackson Creek, we park our cars, we don’t think about it.
With PDI, Council will make the right decision, whether we agree with that decision or not.
It’s a gamble, sure. A crapshoot. A roll of the dice. But then every decision is a risk. The best decisions are made in an open, transparent environment with the best, and most complete information available.
Time will tell if it is the right one. But on December 15th, I for one trust that Council will make the right decision. I hope it isn’t split, I hope it isn’t fractured. Either way, I hope it’s a good, strong decision. After that, if the rates go up it’s the province’s fault, not Council’s. And if the service from Hydro One sucks, that’s Hydro One’s fault, not Council’s.
In the end, this needs to be a business decision. Not all decisions will be popular. But they need to be made nonetheless, and we have to trust our elected officials to make them.
They will. And we should.