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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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    Funeral today for seven children killed in fast-moving Halifax fire

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  • HALIFAX — Mourners will descend upon a large Halifax hall today for the funeral of seven children who died in a fast-moving house fire.

    The service for the Barho children will begin at 1:30 p.m. at the Cunard Centre on the city’s waterfront.

    Imam Abdallah Yousri says funeral proceedings will follow in the Islamic traditions, but is open to people of all faiths and members of the public.

    He says he hopes that by opening the ceremony up to all who wish to attend, the children’s mother — Syrian refugee Kawthar Barho — will see the widespread support and sympathy from the community.

    Yousri says the traditional portion of the service will be followed by words from community members, including Halifax MP Andy Fillmore, who is trying to help some of the mother’s overseas relatives come to Canada.

    Following the funeral service, there will be a burial at a Muslim cemetery in Hammonds Plains.

    “(Kawthar Barho) doesn’t have family over here in Canada. She does not have friends as well here in Halifax because she moved here five months ago,” said Yousri on Friday.

    “That’s why we are trying to invite her to come see the support and let everybody gather.”

    Shuttles will be organized to and from the Cunard Centre to accommodate those who wish to attend, and ample parking is available at the centre.

    The children’s father — Ebraheim Barho — remained in hospital Friday recovering from extensive burns. He was in critical, but stable condition.

    Early Tuesday, the Quartz Drive house fire killed all of the Barho children: Ahmad, 14; Rola, 12; Mohamad, 9; Ola, 8; Hala, 3; Rana, 2 and Abdullah, who was born in Canada on Nov. 9.

    The cause of the fire remains unclear.

    The scale of the tragedy for the young family who arrived in Nova Scotia in September 2017 as refugees has struck a chord with Canadians.

    A GoFundMe campaign had raised more than $523,846 by late Friday afternoon, with a $1-million goal.

    The Barho family lived in Elmsdale, a 30-minute drive north of Halifax, when they first arrived in Nova Scotia and were embraced by residents there.

    They had moved to the Halifax suburb of Spryfield to take advantage of language training and other immigrant services, and had planned to return to Elmsdale next month.

    The family was among 1,795 Syrian refugees who have come to Nova Scotia in recent years. The Trudeau government granted asylum to 40,000 Syrian refugees in 2015-16.

    A brutal civil war has raged across Syria since 2011, claiming more than 400,000 lives.

    The Canadian Press




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    Funeral today for seven children killed in fast-moving Halifax fire

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  • HALIFAX — Mourners will descend upon a large Halifax hall today for the funeral of seven children who died in a fast-moving house fire.

    The service for the Barho children will begin at 1:30 p.m. at the Cunard Centre on the city’s waterfront.

    Imam Abdallah Yousri says funeral proceedings will follow in the Islamic traditions, but is open to people of all faiths and members of the public.

    He says he hopes that by opening the ceremony up to all who wish to attend, the children’s mother — Syrian refugee Kawthar Barho — will see the widespread support and sympathy from the community.

    Yousri says the traditional portion of the service will be followed by words from community members, including Halifax MP Andy Fillmore, who is trying to help some of the mother’s overseas relatives come to Canada.

    Following the funeral service, there will be a burial at a Muslim cemetery in Hammonds Plains.

    “(Kawthar Barho) doesn’t have family over here in Canada. She does not have friends as well here in Halifax because she moved here five months ago,” said Yousri on Friday.

    “That’s why we are trying to invite her to come see the support and let everybody gather.”

    Shuttles will be organized to and from the Cunard Centre to accommodate those who wish to attend, and ample parking is available at the centre.

    The children’s father — Ebraheim Barho — remained in hospital Friday recovering from extensive burns. He was in critical, but stable condition.

    Early Tuesday, the Quartz Drive house fire killed all of the Barho children: Ahmad, 14; Rola, 12; Mohamad, 9; Ola, 8; Hala, 3; Rana, 2 and Abdullah, who was born in Canada on Nov. 9.

    The cause of the fire remains unclear.

    The scale of the tragedy for the young family who arrived in Nova Scotia in September 2017 as refugees has struck a chord with Canadians.

    A GoFundMe campaign had raised more than $523,846 by late Friday afternoon, with a $1-million goal.

    The Barho family lived in Elmsdale, a 30-minute drive north of Halifax, when they first arrived in Nova Scotia and were embraced by residents there.

    They had moved to the Halifax suburb of Spryfield to take advantage of language training and other immigrant services, and had planned to return to Elmsdale next month.

    The family was among 1,795 Syrian refugees who have come to Nova Scotia in recent years. The Trudeau government granted asylum to 40,000 Syrian refugees in 2015-16.

    A brutal civil war has raged across Syria since 2011, claiming more than 400,000 lives.

    The Canadian Press




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