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Washington State regulators rejected Hydro One’s Avista takeover

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  • TORONTO — Washington State regulators have denied Hydro One Ltd.’s proposed takeover of Avista Corp., citing political interference in the Ontario utility by the provincial government.

    The Washington Utilities and Transportation Commission said it found the deal, which valued Avista at $6.7-billion, was not in the public interest after it became clear that the Ontario government was willing to interfere in the utility.

    The U.S. regulator cited Premier Doug Ford’s move to force the Hydro One CEO to retire, which was followed by the resignation of the entire board, as evidence that the province was willing to put political interests above those of shareholders, including those that own a majority of the Ontario utility’s stock.

    Hydro One’s 14-member board resigned en masse after the sudden retirement of chief executive officer Mayo Schmidt, who Ford had labelled “the six-million-dollar man” for his hefty compensation.

    “Provincial government interference in Hydro One’s affairs, the risk of which has been shown by events to be significant, could result in direct or indirect harm to Avista if it were acquired by Hydro One, as proposed,” it stated in its decision.

    “This, in turn, could diminish Avista’s ability to continue providing safe and reliable electrical and natural gas service to its customers in Washington. Avista’s customers would be no better off with this transaction than they would be without it.”

    The regulator said the Ontario government’s action resulted in credit downgrades and decreased the value of Hydro One and Avista shares.

    “The province subsequently passed a law limiting the compensation of the company’s executives and providing for ongoing involvement by the province in matters typically reserved to executive management and the board of a private company,” it added.

    The premier made it clear that he wanted changes, including reduced electricity rates and lower compensation for the CEO — even though 92 per cent of shareholders other than the province supported Hydro One’s executive compensation approach.

    The Washington regulator’s decision was anticipated by a series of analysts, who said in July that the heightened potential for political interference could prompt U.S. regulators to hesitate about the takeover.

    Avista and Hydro One filed a joint application with the commission in September 2017 to approve the proposed merger agreement.

    Avista would have become a wholly owned subsidiary of Ontario’s Toronto-based electric transmission and distribution utility while Avista would have maintained its corporate headquarters in Spokane and continued to operate under the same name, management team and employee structure.

    Hydro One, which is 47 per cent owned by the Ontario government, had assured in testimony on the Avista deal that the province was a passive investor that would not exert political pressure on the company.

    However, the Washington regulator pointed to the June 2018 provincial election that swept the Progressive Conservatives to power and the subsequent changes at Hydro One’s board and CEO. The commission extended its decision timeline to further investigate while regulatory approval processes in Idaho and Oregon also were disrupted.

    The U.S. regulator said the promised benefits of the deal, including rate credits, are inadequate to compensate for risks Avista customers would face. More than 80 per cent of public comments received by the regulator opposed the transaction.

    Schmidt, who earned a $6.2-million salary last year, became a lightning rod for resentment during the election over rising electricity rates in the province. He would have been entitled to at least $10.7 million in severance if he were to be removed from his job by the board of directors, according to the company’s annual shareholders report released on March 29.

    Hydro One has said that Schmidt would not be entitled to severance and would instead receive a $400,000 lump sum payment in lieu of all post-retirement benefits. But he still stands to earn millions from deferred stock options.

    Hydro One was partially privatized in November 2015, and by December 2017 the province had sold off 53 per cent of its stake.

    The former Liberal government said privatization would raise $9 billion to fund transit and infrastructure projects. Privatization was also aimed at driving down costs by spinning it off into the hands of private investors.

    Companies in this story: (TSX:H)

    The Canadian Press


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    France shooting: 2 dead, several wounded in Strasbourg

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  • PARIS — A shooting in the French city of Strasbourg killed two people and wounded 11 others, officials said, sparking a broad lockdown and major security operation around a world-famous Christmas market Tuesday. Authorities said the shooter remains at large.

    French prosecutors said a terrorism investigation was opened into the shooting, though authorities haven’t announced a motive. It’s unclear if the market — which was the nucleus of an al-Qaida plot in 2000 — was targeted. The city is also home to the European Parliament, which was locked down after the shooting.

    The gunman has been identified and has a criminal record, according to Interior Minister Christophe Castaner. The prefect of the Strasbourg region says the gunman had been flagged as a suspected extremist.

    The attack came as France has been wracked by four weeks of protests against President Emmanuel Macron, and police forces have been stretched by fighting rioting and other protest-related unrest. Macron himself adjourned a meeting at the presidential palace on Tuesday night to be able to monitor the events, his office said, indicating the gravity of the attack.

    The interior minister and the Paris prosecutor, who is in charge of anti-terror probes in France, headed Tuesday night to Strasbourg. The prosecutor’s office says the investigation is for murder and attempted murder in relation with a terrorist enterprise.

    Several of the wounded are in critical condition, Castaner said.

    In multiple neighbourhoods of Strasbourg, the French Interior Ministry called on the public to remain indoors. French soldiers were on patrol after the shooting.

    “Our security and rescue services are mobilized,” Castaner said.

    Local authorities tweeted for the public to “avoid the area of the police station,” which is close to the city’s Christmas market. Strasbourg’s well-known market is set up around the city’s cathedral during the Christmas period and becomes a major gathering place.

    Images from the scene show police officers, police vehicles and barricades surrounding the sparkling lights of the market.

    European Parliament spokesman Jaume Duch said that “the European Parliament has been closed and no one can leave until further notice.” It wasn’t immediately clear how many people were inside.

    European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker said that “my thoughts are with the victims of the shooting …. Strasbourg is like no other a city which is a symbol of peace and European democracy.”

    France has been hit by several extremist attacks, including the 2015 Paris shootings, which killed 130 people and wounded hundreds, and a truck attack in Nice that killed dozens in 2016.

    Some Strasbourg residents have reported on social media that they heard gunfire in some parts of the city centre.

    Prime Minister Edouard Philippe tweeted that “the situation is still underway, priority is given to security forces and rescuers.”

    Strasbourg, about 500 kilometres (310 miles) east of Paris, is on the border with Germany.

    The drama recalled a millennial terror plot on Strasbourg’s Christmas market that still marks the collective memory. Ten suspected Islamic militants were convicted and sentenced to prison in December 2004 for their role in a plot to blow up the market on New Year’s Eve 2000.

    The Algerian and French-Algerian suspects — including an alleged associate of al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden — went on trial in October on charges they were involved in the foiled plot for the attack.

    They were sentenced to prison terms ranging from one to nine years.

    Sylvie Corbet, Lori Hinnant And Elaine Ganley, The Associated Press


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    New psychiatric assessment ordered for alleged Fredericton shooter

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  • FREDERICTON — A Fredericton man accused of murdering four people in an August shooting spree has been ordered to undergo a 60-day psychiatric assessment.

    It will determine if Matthew Raymond can be found criminally responsible for the crimes he has been accused of.

    He is charged with four counts of first-degree murder in the deaths of Fredericton police constables Sara Burns and Robb Costello, and civilians Donnie Robichaud and Bobbie Lee Wright.

    Raymond was previously found fit to stand trial after a shorter assessment. Details of the arguments seeking the assessments are under a publication ban

    Defence lawyer Alison Menard said Tuesday the longer assessment is to assess the mental state of an accused at the time of an alleged offence.

    “Did they suffer from a mental disorder which would exempt them from responsibility?” she said outside court.

    “In certain circumstances, people who suffer from a mental disorder can be found not criminally responsible because they are lacking the intent element of the offence because of the mental disorder.”

    The case returns to court on Feb. 8, 2019.

    Raymond is alleged to have fired from his apartment window with a long gun, killing the two civilians as they loaded a car for a trip on Aug. 10, and the two police officers as they responded to the scene.

    Raymond has previously told a judge there is evidence that would allow him to be “exonerated” immediately because of temporary insanity.

    As he has in previous court appearances, Raymond stood in court Tuesday, and complained to the judge about the jail-issued orange jumpsuit and orange sweatshirt he was wearing.

    “I should be in casual clothes. I’m not supposed to be in orange at all,” he said.

    Raymond was also upset over documents he took from a file folder and waved in the air.

    “It concerns these documents I should not have in my possession. There are photographs and evidence. Only the court should have these documents,” he said.

    The documents concerning the investigation are under a publication ban, but Raymond said guards where he’s being held are able to see them.

    He said a guard came into his cell in the middle of the night and was looking at the documents.

    “There’s no (expletive) way someone should be in my (expletive) cell in the middle of the night looking at my (expletive),” he said.

    Former friends and acquaintances of Raymond have offered varying memories of the accused murderer, ranging from a boy who retreated into video games, a pleasant supermarket co-worker and an increasingly isolated loner in recent years.

    Some business owners have described Raymond, who is in his late 40s, as becoming reclusive and occasionally unpleasant in the year before the alleged shootings.

    Kevin Bissett, The Canadian Press




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    december, 2018

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