If you and your family are looking for something to do this summer, you need look no further than our own Algoma-Manitoulin backyard. There is always something to see, some new adventure to enjoy and lots of festivals and activities happening. I have enjoyed attending local farmers’ markets, art shows, music festivals, pow wows and much more. As well, I had the honour of greeting the Honourable Elizabeth Dowdeswell, Lieutenant Governor of Ontario, when she visited Elliot Lake and Manitoulin Island last week. It is wonderful to have the Queen’s representative visit and to help showcase to the nation the spectacular uniqueness of our home.
My office is always a very busy place, receiving calls, letters and emails from constituents seeking assistance on a multitude of issues. However, one of the most disturbing and unfortunately common appeals we receive is requests for assistance with hydro bills. Every day we hear from families, seniors and small businesses that are overwhelmed by skyrocketing electricity rates. And it is important to note that because Algoma-Manitoulin is comprised of northern, rural communities, the effects are particularly hard hitting.
According to the Ontario Energy Board (OEB), in the last decade electricity costs have climbed 100 percent. Tiered prices in May, 2006 were 6.7 cents/kWh and rose to 12.1 cents in May 2016. Customers who live in rural and nonurban communities are hit even harder than urban customers because they face higher delivery charges from utility companies. According to a report issued this year by the United Way, rural residents pay almost double the delivery rates compared to those of customers in urban/high-density areas. An article appearing in the August 1, 2016 edition of the Sudbury Star states that, “An average household in a low-density area is charged about $84.46 for delivery, distribution, connection, network and other fees, the report says, while homes in high-density areas pay about $44.50. And that’s without using any energy at all, it says. Homes that use baseboards for heat pay about $80 a month in hydro rates on top of the delivery fees.” And here’s the kicker; all of these extra charges are just for the delivery of the electricity to the homes. It is not including the cost of electricity consumed.
As you know, this year the OEB launched the Ontario Electricity Support Program (OESP) to assist low-income Ontarians in paying their monthly electricity bills. The above mentioned article states that low-income customers spend a significantly higher proportion of their household income on electrical bills than average and high-income customers. For example, an average household consuming 800kwh in which the total income is $20,000 requires about 10 percent of the household income to pay the hydro bill while a household earning $100,000 spends only about 2 percent of the total income for hydro. Recipients of the program will receive $30-$50 in assistance. But this assistance does not even pay the difference between rural and high-density delivery charge rates. So I ask; how is this fair?
Despite all the good intentions of the OESP, Ontario has seen a spike in disconnections for customers due to an inability to pay these skyrocketing electricity bills. According to information released by the Ontario Energy Board, in one year from July 1, 2015 – July 1, 2016, nearly 60,000 residential customers had their electrical service disconnected due to inability to pay their electrical bills. Imagine how many children and families walking around in the dark and living without cooking or refrigeration appliances that 60,000 households represents. This fact is staggering to say the least.
Given this most unsettling information above, the Ontario Liberals squandered millions of dollars on the gas plant scandal and are bent on reducing the incredible debt they have created by selling off our most important public utility – Hydro One. They do this despite the warnings of the government’s own independent financial watchdogs of a catastrophic result. They do this despite thousands of calls, letters, demonstrations and petitions advising the Liberals this is against the wishes of we, the citizens of Ontario; the owners of the utility.
I encourage you to make sure your voice is heard on this issue. Tell the Premier how you feel. Sign the Ontario is not for Sale petition at http://www.ontariondp.ca/not_for_sale. Work with my NDP colleagues and me to help pressure the government to work in the interests of the people, not to fill enormous corporate coffers and executives pockets.
As always, please feel free to contact my office about these issues, or any other provincial matters. You can reach my constituency office by email at [email protected] or by phone at 705-461-9710 or Toll free 1-800-831-1899.