By Chris Vander Doelen, The Windsor Star
Is Progressive Conservative Leader Tim Hudak finally getting some traction with his criticism of Premier Dalton McGuinty’s expensive “green” energy policies? The PCs’ attack on Liberal experiments with Ontario’s electrical grid have been a main plank of the Tory campaign from day one of the election, but it isn’t working as well as some had hoped.
You knew that if you read The Windsor Star’s editorial on Saturday.
The paper ripped Hudak for criticizing solar and wind power and not investing in hydro power (an odd complaint, since there aren’t enough untapped hydro resources left in Ontario to power a PlayStation 3).
The Star also agrees with the Liberal canard that previous PC governments left poor Dalton a decrepit old power grid that had to be fixed at a cost of billions.
Nonsense. The Liberals inherited a perfectly good electrical grid — so long as you didn’t try to make it run backwards. But that’s exactly what McGuinty decided to do with his Green Energy Act.
The act subsidizes thousands of separate wind and solar installations far from the centre of the province to ship power back toward the big generating plants. Hundreds of linemen are still working overtime to accomplish that incredible feat.
But there are increasing signs that Hudak’s criticism of McGuinty’s multibillion-dollar meddling with the energy market are starting to bear fruit.
On Sunday the premier actually backed down from one of the key planks of Liberal energy policy, the “feed-in tariff (FIT),” or 20-year subsidies for wind and solar power.
If re-elected for a third term, the premier said, he will cut the FIT subsidies to a lower level. That’s an admission that Hudak is correct in his claim that McGuinty’s overly generous subsidies are far too expensive for consumers.
It’s also a sign that the Tory message must be resonating with enough voters to scare McGuinty into a climbdown.
On Monday, Hudak upped the hydro ante by vowing to kill smart meter pricing.
“Those smart meters are nothing more than tax machines.”
He had already made the pledge in the party’s Changebook.
That means cash-strapped seniors and families who can’t afford new energy-efficient appliances and can’t easily do their laundry in the middle of the night can go back to doing their chores during daylight hours, not on McGuinty time.
“Not every family fits into Dalton McGuinty’s idea of an ideal family and can do the laundry in the middle of the night,” Hudak said Monday in a phone interview from his campaign bus in eastern Ontario. “Families and seniors shouldn’t be gouged for trying to live a normal life.”
Smart metering would still exist under a PC government but it would be optional for consumers, farmers and small business people, Hudak said.
Consumers would get to decide whether or not time-of-use pricing is right for them, instead of a bureaucrat in Toronto.
Most consumers would probably ditch the meters in a second, Hudak believes. “You know why they call it a smart meter? Because no matter how much you change your behaviour it still nails you with a price increase.”
Hudak said he would also kill a proposed “smart meter tax” that the McGuinty government quietly approved in cabinet some time ago without telling anyone — “sneaky, just like the eco-tax.”
Hudak claims the Liberals intend to implement that tax after the election at a cost of $33 million per year.
“Dalton McGuinty’s flagship green energy program is unravelling,” Hudak said Monday. Maybe. I’d certainly be glad if it did, because I agree with the Tories’ assessment that the Liberal record on energy has been a painful, job-killing disaster.
After touring a C.S. Wind turbine tower plant in Windsor last Friday, McGuinty was embarrassed by questions about a similar photo-op the Liberals had staged the week before in a solar panel facility in Scarborough.
Eclipsall Energy Corp.’s plant was actually on an unscheduled shutdown and its employees on paid leave when the company was asked to reopen the factory to stage the election stunt.
McGuinty admitted the plant had been closed but only because it had sold all its inventory, he said. Then he claimed the Tories had scared off the plant’s potential customers by talking about ripping up the Green Energy Act.
Premier McGuinty can’t have it both ways. Either consumers are buying the company’s solar panels or they aren’t. The same could be said about voters and the Green Energy monster he’s created.