The defeat of the Tory government in Ontario means that one small provincially owned telco is not going to be sold. Meanwhile, fear of privatization of a larger ILEC may have been a contribution in the re-election of the NDP in Saskatchewan. O.N. Telcom, the telecommunications arm of the Ontario Northland Transportation Commission (ONTC), had been put on the block by the Progressive Conservative government of ex-premier Mike Harris, who was later succeeded by Ernie Eves. Local politicians in northern Ontario were distressed by the move (NL, Feb. 26/01). But Eves’ Tories were turfed from office last month in a Liberal landslide, and Rick Bartolucci, the new minister of northern development and mines, is halting the sale. "At this time, the minister has indicated that this government will not go ahead with the previous government’s plans to privatize the ONTC services," ministry spokesperson Ron St. Louis tells Network Letter. "And that commitment remains firm." Bartolucci is planning to meet as soon as possible with ONTC chair Royal Poulin to discuss the provision of services through the current publicly owned structure. As a new minister in a new administration, the Sudbury politician is busy learning about all the facets of his department. The ONTC had been in the process of developing its three-year business plan. A draft version of that plan is currently winding its way through the ministry. Although Bartolucci has not yet received it, the plan is now being reviewed by the department. The decision to keep ONTel in public hands may owe more to market conditions than to any political will. Despite several months of effort, the previous government was unable to secure any firm offers for the company. Consulting firm KPMG was hired to handle the divestiture of the public corporation. It examined the corporate assets and prepared a report on how to sell ONTel. Expressions of interest to buy the firm were due June 22, 2001. Telco officials admit that there was mild attraction in the company but no headway was made on the sale. By retaining ONTel, the Liberals are conceding that no private sector entity really wants the firm. The public’s desire to keep a provincially held telco may have doomed the Liberal Party in the most recent provincial election. Voters in Saskatchewan elected the New Democratic Party to a fourth term last week, defeating the opposition Saskatchewan Party. The Liberals were shut out, losing every riding. A dominant issue in the campaign was the operation of provincial Crown Corporations, including SaskTel. The NDP warned voters that the Saskatchewan Party was planning to privatize the telco, along with SaskPower, SaskEnergy, and Saskatchewan Government Insurance. Although the opposition’s platform specifically stated, "The Saskatchewan Party has no plan to sell the four major Crowns," the New Democrats constantly hammered home the idea that the quartet would be jettisoned if the government changed. On October 9, the NDP put out a news release with the headline, "Hermanson Admits SaskTel Is For Sale." It accused the leader of the Saskatchewan Party of being ready to privatize the telco. "When asked how the SaskParty would respond to private interest in the sale of SaskTel, as was the case several years ago when Bell Canada expressed interest in our public phone company, Elwin Hermanson responded by saying, ‘I’m not tied ideologically to leaving Crowns as they are.’" the release stated. It interpreted the remarks to mean SaskTel was a goner. On its web site, the NDP dragged out five-year-old quotes from Hermanson and MLA Bob Bjornerud advocating the sale of SaskTel. Many political observers believe it was the fear of privatizing SaskTel and the other Crown corporations that led voters to abandon the Liberals for the New Democrats, thus re-electing the government.