Back-to-school ads have hit the papers and airwaves and parents and children are beginning to make plans for the “new year” and getting back into familiar routines. For MPPs, this includes meeting with provincial and municipal leaders at the annual Association of Municipalities of Ontario (AMO), held this year in Windsor. The AMO Conference brings together over 1700 participants from provincial and municipal governments to discuss and plan for the many challenges facing municipalities in Ontario. This year’s sessions included topics such as infrastructure funding and planning, service sharing and rural economic development. I had the opportunity to meet with leaders from various Algoma-Manitoulin communities and utilized many opportunities to discuss issues with various ministry representatives. I always attend this annual conference to ensure that Northern Ontario continues to exhibit a united presence and strong voice.
This summer, energy continues to be a major concern for Ontarians – both hydro and natural gas. I’m sure you heard that once again, despite running on a ticket of transparency, the Liberals and Glenn Thibeault, the new Minister of Energy, have fully endorsed the decision to bury Ontario’s cap-and-trade plan in the “delivery line” on natural gas bills. The Ontario Energy Board (OEB) announced that costs related to this new tax would not appear as an individual item on bills to consumers but rather be folded to appear as part of a delivery charge. Other provinces such as Quebec and British Columbia, which have the same tax, ensured the amount appears in energy bills on its own line for consumers to clearly understand what they are paying.
The Liberals are trying to hide behind the OEB and blaming them for this decision. However, it is clearly the government’s obligation to do the right thing and be transparent on this new charge. It’s funny that back when the government instituted a 10 percent discount on hydro bills that the Liberals insisted the OEB list it as a separate item. Yet the Premier and Energy Minster claim to continue to honour their promise to be transparent with the people of Ontario. However, Ontarians know better.
My office continues to be overwhelmed by appeals from Northerners who say they can’t afford to pay their hydro bills. People are being faced with choices such as paying utility bills or feeding their family or having their power disconnected. In a previous column I pointed out that in just one year between July 2015 – July 2016, 60,000 residential homes had to have their hydro service disconnected. Yet, Minister Thibeault says there is no energy crisis in Ontario.
Since Kathleen Wynne became premier, hydro bills have increased by over 50 percent. (Based on 1.63% annual inflation or 4.96% inflation from 2013 to 2016 www.goo.gl/Fwjev.) According to the Association of Major Power Consumers of Ontario, our province has the highest delivered rates for industry in North America. And the Ontario Chamber of Commerce predicts that 1 in 20 businesses will be forced to close in the next 5 years. (www.goo.gl/3lVdUJ.)
New Democrats are committed to making life affordable for Ontarians – our focus for the electricity sector being providing affordable and sustainable hydro. We would lower hydro bills by removing the HST for families. This would mean immediate savings on every residential bill. A mandate of the OEB is to protect the interest of consumers. But in practice, this has not been happening. In 2015 the Auditor General reported that the OEB was often unable to meet its mandate because it was pushed out of reviewing Ministry technical plans and was not authorized to review Ministry policy plans. As well, the OEB was not permitted to review the sell-off of Hydro One.
Kathleen Wynne is determined to sell off 60 percent of Hydro One. Ontario’s non-partisan Financial Accountability officer confirms that the Province’s budget balance will be worse than it would have been without the sale. Independent studies have shown that publicly owned Local Distribution Companies (LDCs) in Ontario have lower costs to consumers than private or semi-privately owned LDCs.
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 (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 executive’s 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.