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How Doug Ford massively outspent Hydro One’s ‘Six Million Dollar Man’

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The saga of the “Six Million Dollar Man” has spilled over into the Hundred Million Dollar Manhole.

That’s how much money has gone down the drain at Hydro One thanks to Doug Ford’s costly campaign stunt, culminating with a botched takeover bid and a $103-million kill fee. Never have Ontarians paid so heavy a price for such cheap sloganeering, with the meter still running on lawyers’ bills.

That our fearless, feckless premier could fire the (admittedly overpaid) CEO of Ontario’s electricity transmission utility without financial consequences was always the stuff of television fantasy. When you mix business risk with political recklessness, and personal arrogance with governing incompetence, you are on the hook for what happens.

It begins with the costs (and opportunity costs) of sidelining CEO Mayo Schmidt, who surrendered his munificent $6 million annual compensation but walked away with generous stock options at our expense. That’s a massive transfer of wealth for which we received nothing beyond the fleeting satisfaction of issuing a pink slip.

Revenge is no remedy for past grievances. Envy is no substitute for strategy.

Ford’s chief of staff, Dean French, severed all lines of communication between both sides, I’m told. Bad enough that it was rendered a lame duck board headed by a doomed CEO, our provincial transmission utility was transformed into a zombie corporation for weeks while the Ford team sat on its hands.

By pushing out Schmidt, Ford set off a chain reaction in the U.S. northwest, where regulators were examining Hydro One’s proposed $4.4-billion takeover of regional utility Avista. Written promises that Ontario’s government acted only as a passive investor in Hydro One were flagrantly contradicted by Ford’s meddling, prompting the regulator to step in.

Hence the kill fee Hydro One must pay, plus commissions to investment banks involved in the deal’s financing, adding up to more than $150 million. Not to mention massive legal bills.

Retreating into damage control mode, the premier’s office issued a written statement laced with campaign-style rhetoric, six months after the election ended: “I will never apologize for keeping my promises to the voters. We are reducing hydro rates.”

Except that cutting Schmidt’s supersized salary won’t shave more than a fraction of a penny off monthly bills. Paying out more than $150 million in kill fees and lawyer’s bills will cost the company far more.

All for what? The satisfaction of cutting off our nose (or Schmidt’s tin ear) to spite — or incite — ourselves?

It is tempting to blame the premier alone for our hydroelectricity folly. But that would pile one more oversimplification onto the heap of hyperbole surrounding Hydro One.

Ever since the start of its privatization misadventure, led by former premier Kathleen Wynne, the utility has been bizarrely cursed. While I argued against it — too much risk for too little reward — I never lost sleep over the partial sale of our transmission lines (a largely passive asset) while maintaining effective control with a 47-per cent stake.

But I never anticipated the success of the New Democratic Party in whipping up public antipathy to the sale, thanks largely to brand contamination: Most people conflated Hydro One with the old Ontario Hydro, long since split up into the transmission utility and the more strategic Ontario Power Generation (still fully owned by Queen’s Park).

The Progressive Conservatives, who had long demanded privatization, conveniently reversed themselves ahead of the election to join the NDP crusade for full public ownership. On the campaign trail, Ford emerged as the province’s populist-in-chief by pouncing on Schmidt’s excessive compensation with his artful rhetoric that struck a chord with voters — and pulled the rug out from the NDP.

But Ford’s bumper sticker slogan mocking the “Six Million Dollar Man,” and his new roadside signs proclaiming Ontario “Open for Business,” belie the reality that this Progressive Conservative government is bad for business, and bad for Hydro One’s balance sheet. Ford’s pro-business rhetoric hasn’t fooled the business press, which is panning his government’s intervention in corporate governance, its interference in the hiring and firing of top managers, and its readiness to tear up signed commercial contracts to score political points.

If a Liberal or NDP government had attempted half of the upheaval undertaken by PCs so far, the private sector would be raising cries of banditry and Bolshevism. Happily for the Tories they are buffered by their historical affinity with right wing rhetoric.

But the more maladroit their performance, the more glaring the distinction between conservatism and competence. Meddling with management is no way to run a corporation, just as mismanagement is no way to govern a province.

Martin Regg Cohn is a columnist based in Toronto covering Ontario politics. Follow him on Twitter: @reggcohn

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Anglais

Nostalgia and much more with Starburst XXXtreme

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Get a taste of adventure with Starburst XXXtreme based on the legendary NetEnt Game. The nostalgic themes are sure to capture fans of the classic version as they get treated to higher intensity, better visuals, and features. The most significant element of the game is its volatility. Patience will not be an essential virtue considering the insane gameplay, and there is a lot of win potential involved. It retains the original makeup of the previous game while adding a healthy dose of adrenaline. 

Starburst Visuals and Symbols

The game is definitely more conspicuous than before. The setting happens over a 5-reel, 3-row game grid with nine fixed win lines, which function if a succession from the left to the right reel is present. Only those players that that attain the highest win per bet line are paid. From a visual standpoint, the Starburst XXXtreme slots illustrates lightning effects behind the reels, which is not surprising as it is inherited from the original version. Available themes include Classic, Jewels, and Space. The game is also available in both desktop and mobile versions, which is advantageous for players considering the global pandemic. According to Techguide, American gamers are increasingly having more engaging gaming experiences to socialize to fill the gap of in-person interaction. Starburst XXXtreme allows them to fill the social void at a time when there is so much time to be had indoors. 

Starburst XXXTreme Features

Players get to alternate on three features which are Starburst Wilds, XXXtreme Spins, and Random Wilds. The first appears on reels 2,3, or 4. When these land, they expand to cover all positions while also calculating the wins. They are also locked for a respin. If a new one hits, it also becomes locked while awarding another respin. Starburst XXXtreme offers a choice between two scenarios for a higher stake. In one scenario with a ten times stake, the Starburst Wild is set on random on reels 2,3, or 4, and a multiplier starts the respin. The second scenario, which has a 95 times stake, starts with two guaranteed starburst wilds on reels 2,3, or 4. it also plays out using respin game sequence and features. The game also increases the potential with the Random Wilds feature to add Starburst Wilds to a vacant reel at the end of a spin. Every Starburst Wild gives a random multiplier with potential wins of x2, x3, x5, x10, x25, x50, x100, or even x150.

The new feature is sure to be a big hit with the gaming market as online gambling has shown significant growth during the lockdown. AdAge indicates the current casino customer base is an estimated one in five Americans, so Starburst XXXtreme’s additional features will achieve considerable popularity. 

What We Think About The Game

The gambling market has continued to diversify post-pandemic, so it is one of the most opportune times to release an online casino-based game. Thankfully Starburst XXXtreme features eye-catching visuals, including the jewels and space themes. These attract audience participation and make the gameplay inviting. The game also has a nostalgic edge. The previous NetEnt iteration featured similar visuals and gameplay, so the audience has some familiarity with it. The producers have revamped this version by tweaking the features to improve the volatility and engagement. 

That is characterized by the potential win cap of 200,000 times the bet. Starburst XXXtreme does not just give betting alternatives for players that want to go big. The increase of multipliers also provides a great experience. If the respins in the previous version were great, knowing that multipliers can go hundreds of times overtakes the game to a new level. 

Players should get excited about this offering. All of the features can be triggered within a single spin. Whether one plays the standard game or takes the XXXtreme spin route, it is possible to activate all of the features. Of course, the potential 200,000 times potential is a huge carrot. However, the bet size is probably going to be restricted and vary depending on the casino. It is also worth pointing out that a malfunction during the gameplay will void all of the payouts and progress. Overall, the game itself has been designed to provide a capped win of 200,000 times the original bet. 

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Anglais

‘We’re back’: Montreal festival promoters happy to return but looking to next year

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In downtown Montreal, it’s festival season.

In the city’s entertainment district, a musical act was conducting a sound check on stage Friday evening — the second day of the French-language version of the renowned Just For Laughs comedy festival. Tickets for many of the festival’s free outdoor shows — limited by COVID-19 regulations — were sold out.

Two blocks away, more than 100 people were watching an acoustic performance by the Isaac Neto Trio — part of the last weekend of the Festival International Nuits d’Afrique, a celebration of music from the African continent and the African diaspora.

With COVID-19 restrictions continuing to limit capacity, festival organizers say they’re glad to be back but looking forward to next year when they hope border restrictions and capacity limits won’t affect their plans.

Charles Décarie, Just For Laughs’ CEO and president, said this is a “transition year.”

“Even though we have major constraints from the public health group in Montreal, we’ve managed to design a festival that can navigate through those constraints,” Décarie said.

The French-language Juste pour rire festival began on July 15 and is followed by the English-language festival until July 31.

When planning began in February and March, Décarie said, organizers came up with a variety of scenarios for different crowd sizes, ranging from no spectators to 50 per cent of usual capacity.

“You’ve got to build scenarios,” he said. “You do have to plan a little bit more than usual because you have to have alternatives.”

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Anglais

MELS new major movie studio to be built in Montreal

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MONTREAL — MELS Studios will build a new film studio in Montreal, filling some of the gap in supply to meet the demand of Hollywood productions.

MELS president Martin Carrier said on Friday that MELS 4 studio construction will begin « as soon as possible », either in the fall or winter of next year. The studio could host productions as early as spring 2023.

The total investment for the project is $76 million, with the Quebec government contributing a $25 million loan. The project will create 110 jobs, according to the company.

The TVA Group subsidiary’s project will enable it to stand out « even more » internationally, according to Quebecor president and CEO Pierre Karl Péladeau. In the past, MELS Studios has hosted several major productions, including chapters of the X-Men franchise. The next Transformers movie is shooting this summer in Montreal.

Péladeau insisted that local cultural productions would also benefit from the new facility, adding that the studio ensures foreign revenues and to showcase talent and maintain an industry of Quebec producers.

STUDIO SHORTAGE

The film industry is cramped in Montreal.

According to a report published last May by the Bureau du cinéma et de la télévision du Québec (BCTQ), there is a shortage of nearly 400,000 square feet of studio space.

With the addition of MELS 4, which will be 160,000 square feet, the company is filling part of the gap.

Carrier admitted that he has had to turn down contracts because of the lack of space, representing missed opportunities of « tens of millions of dollars, not only for MELS, but also for the Quebec economy. »

« Montreal’s expertise is in high demand, » said Montreal Mayor Valérie Plante, who was present at the announcement.

She said she received great testimonials from « Netflix, Disney, HBO and company » during an economic mission to Los Angeles in 2019.

« What stands out is that they love Montreal because of its expertise, knowledge and beauty. We need more space, like MELS 4, » she said.

There is still not enough capacity in Quebec, acknowledged Minister of Finance, the Economy and Innovation Eric Girard.

« It is certain that the government is concerned about fairness and balance, so if other requests come in, we will study them with the same seriousness as we have studied this one, » he said.

Grandé Studios is the second-largest player in the industry. Last May, the company said it had expansion plans that should begin in 2022. Investissement Québec and Bell are minority shareholders in the company.

For its part, MELS will have 400,000 square feet of production space once MELS 4 is completed. The company employs 450 people in Quebec and offers a range of services including studio and equipment rentals, image and sound postproduction, visual effects and a virtual production platform.

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