As mayor he led a movement of Ontario municipalities and boards of trade to get cheap electric power from NIAGARA FALLS. In 1905 James P. WHITNEY made Beck head of a public inquiry that ultimately recommended creating a municipally owned, provincially financed co-operative hydroelectric distribution system.
Supported by bipartisan public ownership advocates, the Hydro-Electric Power Commission of Ontario began in a small way in 1910, but through Beck's aggressive promotion of "Power At Cost," thousands of new industrial, retail and household customers soon were gained. By charging initial low rates to induce a large demand, then building huge, efficient generating stations whose low costs permitted further rate reductions, Beck rapidly expanded his system and drove most of his private competitors out of business. He also browbeat balky municipalities, tyrannized provincial governments with his powerful following and abused his regulatory authority to hamper private rivals. Eventually he overreached himself and E.C. DRURY's government cancelled his electric railway scheme; G. Howard FERGUSON also kept Beck and Hydro on a short leash.
As principal founder and guiding genius of ONTARIO HYDRO, Beck helped establish the public enterprise tradition in Canada, though his methods did little to render such enterprises more politically accountable.
Author H.V. NELLES