Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Time to rethink the AECL privatization?

The diligent CanPolitico has dug up a very interesting poll that Lisa Raitt commissioned (pdf) early this year on the issue of Atomic Energy Canada Limited's privatization. Recall that the privatization was sprung on us this past spring (pardon the pun) as the Chalk River isotope reactor shutdown's impact was just beginning. Yet this public opinion research presented to Raitt in February demonstrated overwhelming public opposition to privatization of AECL (click to enlarge, fr. p. 9):

Also of note in the poll, the very high percentages expressing a sense of "Economic Nationalism" on the nuclear issue, fearing the loss of control of a significant Canadian industry to foreign ownership: "The nuclear technology used in Canada be retained in companies owned and controlled by Canadians." 84% support that proposition. There's a public policy message there to be listened to, if not by the Harper government, by others.

Raitt and the Harper government are in a bit of a bind on AECL, whether they admit it or not. They've put AECL up for privatization (the Candu unit, whereas the R&D research reactor would be run by private sector management) yet a major wrench was thrown into their plan this summer when Ontario backed out of its purchase from AECL in respect of the Darlington reactor upgrade. A major reason for doing so was the uncertain ownership future of AECL. That put a crimp in the plan to privatize, a major contract became a major question mark, affecting AECL's value. This report last week on the reactor choices for the Darlington upgrade touches on the Ontario/federal government AECL standoff, a reminder of that cloud that's been hung over the industry, partially due to this move at the federal level to privatize AECL.

Combine that ongoing Ontario drama with the above confirmation of strong public support for public ownership of AECL...could be time for a rethink on the privatization strategy. For rational government actors, that is. We'll see what the ideological ones do.