Go to CNF homepage
The Canadian Nuclear FAQ  

by Dr. Jeremy Whitlock


Published in the February 2003 issue of the Canadian Nuclear Society Bulletin, Vol.24, No.1.

For the People, Buy the People

by Jeremy Whitlock

It's mid-February, and the 100-foot-diameter hole in the ice of the Ottawa River looks very anomalous. Standing on a bluff below the NRU reactor, watching ducks splash playfully against the dark mass, one is given pause.

On the coldest days they're out there, when nose hairs snap like twigs and the hardiest of cross-country-ski commuters scurry for bus passes. The birds are, presumably, oblivious to the anthropogenic nature of the hole, as well as Nature's on-going struggle to close it.

It's enough to make the hypothermic mind reflect upon the constancies of the physical world, the necessities of life, and the delicate balance between the two.

In Ontario the electricity supply is a necessity of life suffering both neglect and abuse. At the outset of the last century Canada's most populous and industrialized province rightfully embraced electricity as a public asset, and explosive economic growth ensued.

The motivation for public control over price and supply has changed little in the years since then:

  • As a commodity lacking both a shelf life and a practical alternative, electricity's spot price is coupled rigidly to production, and the whims of machinery, labour, and climate.

  • As both an economic and life-sustaining force, demand is guaranteed, and guarantees are demanded.

  • As an evolving technology with global environmental and socio-political repercussions, investment must be long-term and development far-sighted.

In Ontario of late, the people's power has become the politician's puppet: a high-profile whipping boy for both sides of the Legislature, a laundromat for ulterior aspirations up and down the political spectrum, and a vehicle for tax camouflage.

Then, at the dawn of the new millennium: a poster-boy for privatization. As the provincial government conducted its scorched-earth policy for dealing with past mismanagement of the hydro portfolio, everything found itself quartered and on the auction block. Reality then dawned and the claw-back began. Investors backed off.

In January the Eves government finally killed the sale of Hydro One, after failing to find worthy suckers willing to underwrite 49% of a political tool. Small wonder, following on the heels of the cancellation of free-market electricity retail in Ontario, now capped at 4.3 cents per kWh.

The government ended the experiment in light of an upcoming election, after a summer of shocking price volatility (partially caused, in turn, by an eroded electrical infrastructure from decades of political abuse.) They've rebated millions of bucks to the voters of Ontario and assert to be acting in the public interest, while filtering the cost of both the rebates and the on-going rate cap (for Ontario's electricity market continues) back to the consumers by less obvious means.

As disconcerting as this is, Ontarians can expect further meddling throughout the socio-economic infrastructure as Election Day draws near.

At the end of January eyebrows were raised in Ontario and elsewhere as hamburger mega-giant McDonald's announced its first-ever losing quarter. If ever there were a necessity of life, it's fast food, and fear of price escalation fuelled rumours of Premiere Eves contemplating intervention in the Ontario burger market.

Reportedly, stability would be imposed by a cap on the price of a Big Mac at $2.50, with a corresponding price freeze on Meal Deals that bundle the big burger with common peripherals.

As the Ontario burger market perseveres, the Eves government will be left to fund subsequent revenue shortfall directly from fee-for-use strategies, including the Playland, washrooms, and ketchup dispenser.

Likely to be decontrolled is the Special Sauce, with U.K. sauce giant HP Foods reportedly expressing an interest.

Lost socks found deep in the Playland will no longer be channeled to the Lost and Found, but sold on the biofuels market.

Perhaps it's the seemingly boundless capacity of elected officials to meddle that brings solace to the scene on the Ottawa River. Until ulterior agendas can craft ulterior physics, the ducks are safe.

The author claims a 49% non-controlling share of the responsibility for the veracity of this story.

Discussion welcome.

©2011 Jeremy Whitlock

[Back to The Canadian Nuclear FAQ]