Public Power: The Fight for Publicly Owned Electricity


298 pages
Contains Photos, Bibliography, Index
ISBN 1-894663-44-6
DDC 333.793'2'0971





Reviewed by Richard G. Kuhn

Richard G. Kuhn is an associate professor of geography at the University
of Guelph.


As leader of the New Democratic Party of Ontario, Howard Hampton writes
from a clear ideological perspective. Hampton’s motivation for writing
the book seems to stem from a deep concern over recent overtures towards
and experiments with the privatization of electricity generation and
distribution in various constituencies. The aim of the book is as much
to debunk the proponents of privatization of electricity in Ontario as
it is to promote publicly owned electricity generation. In Hampton’s
words, “the opponents of public power are as wrong today as they were
one hundred years ago.” Although Hampton claims not to be opposed to
the forces of privatization, his opposition to privatized and
deregulated energy systems stems from experiences in the United Kingdom,
California, Alberta, and recently in the province of Ontario. History,
he argues, provides the evidence. What follows is an engaging and
critical foray into the social and political history of electricity
generation in Ontario.

Beginning with the emergence of the world’s first publicly owned
long-distance power system in Ontario at the turn of the 20th century
and working its way through to the development of nuclear electricity,
the book provides an excellent synopsis of the people and politics
involved in the myriad debates about electricity. While focusing in part
on technological developments, Hampton is at his best in uncovering
political motives, strategies, and debates. The middle chapters of the
book are devoted to the “disasters” of privatization and the
“inevitable failure of deregulation.” The book concludes by
extolling the virtues of publicly owned power and, by extension,
democratic control.

It is difficult to say whether Public Power will convert the proponents
of privatization to the light of public ownership. It will certainly
appeal to the converted. For all readers, Hampton provides an
interesting perspective and a fine read.


Hampton, Howard., “Public Power: The Fight for Publicly Owned Electricity,” Canadian Book Review Annual Online, accessed July 22, 2024,