Adele Benoit doesn't have any Christmas lights on her house this year – it's an expense she says she can't afford.
The Cambridge mother of three says her hydro electricity bill has gone from $250 every two months last year, to a bill this month for $550 for two months of power.
"We're trying to do as much as we can to conserve it, but it's not really making a difference," Benoit said, sitting in the kitchen of her townhouse in Shamrock Heights, a Housing Cambridge affordable housing property.
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About a year ago her basement flooded and a sump pump had to be installed. It runs 24 hours a day to keep her basement dry.
"Since then, the hydro bills have just been going up, slowly but surely, going up. And then at one point, they just doubled. I've paid more in hydro since living here than I've actually paid in rent," Benoit said.
Adding to her financial struggles, she has been on sick leave from work since October and doesn't qualify for employment insurance because she didn't have enough hours.
She said she now now dreads the moment when her hydro bill arrives.
"My heart is just up in my throat, it really is. And then it's a slow process to open up that envelope and just to slide the paper out and then you see the amount due on the bill," she said. "It just destroys me inside."
Rising rates affecting Ontarians across province
Benoit's story is one Ontario NDP Leader Andrea Horwath said she has heard from people across the province.
Horwath has held similar meetings in other cities, inviting the local media to report on the struggles people are facing.
She said she feels "extreme anger" hearing the stories of regular Ontarians, fighting to make ends meet.
"It's not like this is an unusual story," Horwath said. "It's important to have Adele to tell her story because it's being echoed across the province."
Horwath said the Liberal government needs to do something to help.
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She said the province needs to stop selling off shares of Hydro One and turn it back into a public corporation, and said the Ontario Energy Board needs to be a watchdog over increasing rates.
"It hasn't been acting that way, in my opinion, for a long time," Horwath said.
When it comes to fixed price contracts, Horwath said she doesn't advocate ripping them up, but she thinks the province should enlist the help of the auditor general, the financial accountability officer and industry experts to "go through them" and "get some value back."
Premier Kathleen Wynne has called the rising hydro rates her "mistake."
In a speech last month at the Ontario Liberal annual general meeting in Ottawa, Wynne said she takes responsibility "for not paying close enough attention to some of the daily stresses in Ontarians' lives."
In September, Wynne said she has heard from Ontarians from all over the province. She called the issue "urgent."
"What I know is, we haven't done enough." she said. "Quite frankly, those concerns are things that we now have to take to heart and we have to use them to inform our actions going forward."
'I've paid more in hydro since living here than I've actually paid in rent.' - Cambridge resident Adele Benoit
Provincial Energy Minister Glenn Thibeault has said the government will look at how it buys electricity and consider more flexible billing plans.
Steve Garrison, general manager of Housing Cambridge, couldn't speak to Benoit's situation specifically, but said in cases where sump pumps have been added to basements, their analysis shows it adds an additional $50 to the bill.
That money is reimbursed to residents by Housing Cambridge.
The units in Shamrock Heights have gas furnaces, so any increase isn't from heating, he said.
But Garrison said while hydro rates have gone up, many residents have also found their bills went up in recent months due to the use of window air conditioners during a hot summer, and some residents had more than one unit.
'Makes me feel like I've failed'
Benoit said she limits the amount of time her sons – ages 16, 9 and 7 – spend watching television or playing games. She has energy efficient bulbs, but is constantly switching off lights. She even got a brand new energy efficient washer and dryer.
"I have to stay on top of it. If I don't, my next hydro bill's going to be $1,000 and then we're going to be without hydro," she said.
This Christmas won't be as festive as she had hoped, said Benoit, who leaves her tree on for about an hour each night before turning it off to save energy.
It's disappointing, she said, tearing up.
"It makes me feel like I've failed, like I've failed my kids," Benoit said.