During Question Period today, NDP Energy Critic, Peter Tabuns, demanded Premier Wynne increase emergency assistance for rural families struggling to pay some of the highest hydro bills in the province.
“The United Way of Bruce Grey recently declared rural energy poverty to be a public health crisis,” Tabuns said. “When rural families lose hydro, they not only lose their TV; they could also lose their well-pump, their drinking water, and their toilet. They could lose the basic necessities of life,” Tabuns said.
The United Way found that in urban areas, the average hydro bill arrears is about $700. But in rural areas, the average arrears is over $1,200. But the maximum relief available to rural families who heat with electricity is just $600.
“Last month the government promised rural rate relief, but we now know that most rural families will not get this relief,” Tabuns said. “Will the government at least increase emergency assistance for rural families struggling to pay their skyrocketing hydro bills?”
Tabuns demanded to know why the Wynne government has a lower cap on emergency assistance for rural Ontario than for urban areas. The government offers a total of $1000 in emergency assistance in areas with access to natural gas, with $500 in assistance available for both natural gas and hydro bills. Meanwhile, rural families that lack access to natural gas and heat with electricity have access only to a maximum of $600 in emergency assistance.
“Rural and Northern families who do not have access to natural gas, and must heat with electricity, have access to a maximum of just $600 in total emergency assistance,” Tabuns said. “Rural and Northern families already have the highest energy bills in the province. Why is their total emergency assistance capped at $400 less than what exists in urban areas?”