On August 14, 2003, there was a huge blackout across the American northeast and almost every inch of Ontario -the largest blackout in North American history affecting about 50 million people in total.
The United States and Canadian governments have established a bi-national task force to examine the problem and make recommendations to ensure this type of incident does not happen again. CUPE calls on the Canadian government to hold public hearings as part of this process.
In this paper, CUPE looks at the history of deregulation in the U.S., focusing on the California crisis and the collapse of energy giant, Enron, as proof of the failure of market experiments in electricity. Looking at the recent blackout, there are early indications of the same mentality at work – a higher regard for profit and power than the safety of the public.
Canadian attempts to deregulate and privatize electricity are documented with a focus on Ontario and British Columbia, but also looking at Alberta and New Brunswick.
The need for public investment in the electricity system is greater than ever and the paper examines the example of the myths surrounding Ontario Hydro’s debt and how the Ontario public is paying for the “price cap” in that province. Clearly, greater Canadian electricity cooperation and less dependency on the U.S. is a preferable solution. Public power systems in Manitoba and Quebec are examples of self-reliance and an improved east-west Canadian grid makes sense in an era of volatile deregulated systems.
A final section looks at lessons learned from the August 14 blackout and CUPE has many recommendations on how to strengthen the Canadian electricity system. CUPE members can be proud of the historic struggles waged to protect public power. The fight has to continue against corporations who want to turn the right to electricity by lining their own pockets with profits made from market-based electricity. Our governments must be held accountable as we continue this struggle for publicly owned and operated electricity.