I am concerned about the secrecy surrounding reported a potential $16 million power generation upgrade by Parry Sound Power.

Try to find out anything about Parry Sound Power. Google, or Bing, or Yahoo, ‘Parry Sound Power’ and you will find next to nothing. Head over to their website and all you find is consumer type information on rates, service and the like. Actually it’s worth taking a quick peek at their ‘Gallery’ of photos (link here). It seems they like posting their vacation photos, or more likely someone forgot to replace the stock photos with ones of Parry Sound. All you can find separately online is information about their rate applications and their occasional charitable activities. But there is little to be found about their business, or rather businesses. As I understand it, there are three separate companies that make up what I refer to as ‘Parry Sound Power’ which are involved in power generation, delivery, billing and watershed management.

So far I have probably told you nothing more than you already knew. And that is at the root of my concern. There has been repeated indirect mention of a pending $16 million investment by ‘Parry Sound Power’ in new hydro generating capacity. But this information is raised at times where there is no opportunity for public questions, and it is without information concerning the current financial performance of Parry Sound Power. At a recent council meeting there was mention that a slight profit was being realized as a result of the high water levels and the 24/7 power generating opportunity this provided. Does that mean at other times Parry Sound Power is operating at a loss, or simply breaking even?

My suspicion is that the rumoured $16 million investment in additional generating capacity is Parry Sound Power’s, and the Town of Parry Sound’s, attempt to generate additional revenue and profit for the town. Additional revenue can help the town better manage its limited tax base and the increasing costs of providing expected services to the town. This year’s budget is already a headache for council and staff.

There is nothing wrong with making a bold investment in hopes of a good return. It’s what this country was built on. That is, of course, if you can afford to absorb the loss if you are wrong. Seeing as we are being given no information, one has to assume there is some risk involved. If there weren’t it is likely more information would be forthcoming. There are not many husbands who would say to their spouses, ‘I’m heading down to Vegas for a few days, I have a hunch that 33 will be paying big on the roulette table, so I’m betting our retirement funds’. Not many at all. But that doesn’t mean they don’t go down to Vegas and bet on number 33, or try out their newly developed online poker skills. They just keep their plans a secret.

The problem for me is the secrecy. I am told that Parry Sound Power is a separate private company. Somehow this explains why there are never any published reports on their financial operation, or why there is never a discussion at council of their current operations. As a community we receive regular, and often detailed, reports on the financial performance and required investments for our water and waste-water services. And these are multimillion dollar operations.

The Town of Parry Sound is the majority shareholder in Parry Sound Power and has the right to make public the business activities and financial statements of Parry Sound Power. In the same way that I, as a private citizen, have no obligation to share my tax return with the public, I am not prohibited from doing so. Why all the secrecy concerning Parry Sound Power? Has council and staff been convinced by the management and board of Parry Sound Power that disclosure is illegal? “If we told the community about our operations we would be obliged to kill them all”. By mass electrocution perhaps?

I’m not sure what the secrecy is all about but I am concerned and worried about the process and the potential liability all of us will be assuming. It will be the taxpayers of Parry Sound who will need to ‘guarantee’ any loans taken by Parry Sound Power. The whole pretense of a ‘separate and private company’ disappears when Parry Sound Power goes looking for a $16 million loan. It will be the Town of Parry Sound that will be required to assume responsibility for repaying the loan, much like a bank requiring you to guarantee your child’s first car loan, or their first mortgage. You are the established individual with the resources to ‘make good’ on the loan.

Let’s see what we are told. I certainly hope this is not a ‘fait accompli’. Even a little time for the community to weigh in on this investment is necessary. And how about opening up the books of Parry Sound Power the same way that the books of the town are made available?

There is a big difference between a secret and a surprise. I think council feels they are planning a big surprise. To me it feels more like a secret.