Eleven months from the next election, the Ontario Liberal government is self-destructing on divisive and costly energy policies, critics say.
Ontario’s Liberal government will borrow the $1 billion it needs to fund a 10 per cent hydro rate cut, Finance Minister Dwight Duncan said Wednesday. The rate cut, along with the details about its impact on the province’s books, will be laid out in Duncan’s fall economic update this afternoon.
Opposition leaders wonder if it’s enough to make any real difference to electrical rates still likely to climb.
Ontario Conservative Party Leader Tim Hudak says a 10 per cent decrease won’t make consumers forget about a near doubling of their electrical bills during Premier Dalton McGuinty’s seven years in office.
“It’s a desperate move by a government less than a year away from an election,” Hudak said in a telephone interview Wednesday. And more rate increases are coming anyway, he believes.
Ontario NDP Leader Andrea Horwath claims a partial victory after months of urging the government to at least take out the eight per cent provincial share of the 13 per cent HST on electrical bills.
“It (HST) should never have been put on hydro in the first place,” she said Wednesday while in Windsor for several community functions. Not yet sure how Duncan’s rebate program will work or for how long, Horwath prefers the certainty of the HST being lowered.
Windsor councillors Ron Jones and Al Halberstadt, who met with Horwath, also preferred an HST reduction as a better option for consumers. City council unanimously passed Coun. Jo-Anne Gignac’s motion Monday seeking HST elimination on water, electricity and natural gas bills.
University of Windsor professor emeritus Lloyd Brown-John sees some parallels in the Ontario Liberals’ energy policy quagmire and the downfall of the previous Ontario PC government of Windsor native Ernie Eves.
Facing similar criticism about rising electrical rates during years of deregulation of the Ontario Hydro monopoly, Eves put a freeze in place.
But Eves went to the polls not long after the power blackout of August 2003 raised new questions about the Tory government’s energy policies, Brown-John said.
Next summer, as air conditioners are cranked up and hydro bills are opened, voters “will get an in-your-face reminder of the cost of living in Ontario,” Brown-John said.
He doesn’t think October’s election will be good timing for Liberal politicians going door-to-door and facing questions about why smart meters haven’t helped the average family save much, if anything, on their electrical bills.
“The trap (for the Liberals) is set now,” predicts former longtime Energy Probe CEO Tom Adams, now a consultant.
Adams said the government forgot about the impact on consumers while subsidizing expensive renewable energy in the hope of creating some 50,000 jobs.
Rising electrical rates over the next three to five years can’t be avoided because of contracts now in place, regardless of which government is in power, Adams said.
Shifting some of the cost of power generation and transmission from consumer rates to the provincial budget with a consumer rebate doesn’t make those costs disappear, says Adams. “It’s a classic shell game. They are bribing the voters with their own money.”
Brown-John sees hope for the Liberals only if voters conclude the energy policies of the other parties are worse.
Hudak supports keeping nuclear power as the source of about 50 per cent of the province’s energy needs, while scaling back renewable power and returning planning authority over the latter to municipalities.
Horwath says the NDP opposes nuclear power upgrades, wants a more affordable renewable energy plan, along with greater emphasis on conservation measures and incentives that directly benefit consumers.