Sudbury

Liberal throne speech promises hydro relief, infrastructure investment in the north

In a bid to quiet the discontent that has been plaguing Kathleen Wynne's Liberals, the Ontario government promised in a throne speech today that it will provide rebates to urban and rural residents and small businesses to help offset high electricity rates.

Sagging enthusiasm for Ontario Liberals — and key loss in Scarborough by-election — prompts government reset

Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne has pressed the reset button on her Liberal government, hoping that a speech from the Throne can assuage the concerns of Ontarians. (Eduardo Lima/Canadian Press)

In a bid to quiet the discontent that has been plaguing Kathleen Wynne's Liberals, the Ontario government promised in a throne speech today that it will provide rebates to urban and rural residents and small businesses to help offset high electricity rates.

Lt.-Gov. Elizabeth Dowdeswell announced that eligible Ontario residents and small businesses can can expect a rebate on electricity bills that is equal to the provincial portion of harmonized sales tax (HST), which amounts to about $130 a year for a typical household.

Rural rate payers will receive savings of 20 per cent a month, approximately $45 or $540 per year.

This rebate goes into effect Jan 1, 2017.

The rebate aims to stem the tide of anger over rising hydro bills for many Ontarians, especially those in the northern parts of the province.

Reg Freund received an electricity bill for $6,300 for his seasonal camp north of Thunder Bay. (Jeff Walters/CBC)

But Nipissing Progressive Conservative MPP Vic Fedeli says the rebates are too little, too late. 

"Since 2010, your hydro rates have climbed $295 a year [on average]. Plus, just since last May, in addition to that, they rose another $255," he told CBC News.

"To hear somebody is going to give you $130 of your own money back — that they now have to go and borrow — that doesn't make any sense whatsoever."

Taking the HST off hydro bills is something the provincial NDP has pushed for in the past. However Nickel Belt MPP France Gelinas says taking off the provincial portion of the tax is not enough.

"People who come to see me, it's because their bill used to be $67 [for] monthly equal billing," she said. "It is now $300."

Energy analyst Tom Adams points out there are other factors that will affect hydro bills, including rate increases and the introduction of cap and trade.

"Those factors will approximately offset all the savings that were announced. So in terms of net benefit, there's not much to go on here."

Infrastructure improvements

Northerners may also see some added investments in highway infrastructure over the next five years, as the government said that about 5,000 kilometres of highways will be built or repaved — and more than 750 bridges will be built, repaired or rebuilt.

The government said that about 2,400 kilometres of these highways and 200 of these bridges will be in northern Ontario.

A 'mechanical failure' of the Nipigon River Bridge forced the closure of the Trans-Canada Highway in January, severing the only road between Eastern and Western Canada. (Provided/Ashley Littlefield)

As for the Ring of Fire, the oft-discussed chromite deposit in the James Bay Lowlands was only mentioned once by Dowdeswell:

"Your government will continue to work with First Nations and other partners to move forward with greater access to the Ring of Fire and remote First Nation communities," Dowdeswell said.

"It will invest in all regions of our province, including to help unlock the tremendous mineral potential of Northern Ontario."

The Ring of Fire chromite deposit has captivated the imagination of many northern Ontario investors and mine operators, but remains mired in the planning stages. (Noront Resources)

With files from the Canadian Press, Marina Von Stackelberg. Edited/packaged by Casey Stranges

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