Thunder Bay·Analysis

Hydro at the forefront of Queen's Park question period: Robert Fisher

The Ontario Liberals are taking a "daily pounding" in the provincial legislature over the energy portfolio, and it's put the most recently-appointed Minister of Energy, Glenn Thibeault, in the political cross-hairs.

Robert Fisher is a political analyst covering Queen's Park

Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne's government will continue to feel political heat over electricity costs. (Chris Seto/CBC)
For this edition of report from Queen's Park, we were joined by political analyst Robert Fisher. We touched on the issue of amalgamating school boards, but the conversation was dominated by the problems the Liberals are having with the issue of hydro.

The Ontario Liberals are taking a "daily pounding" in the provincial legislature over the energy portfolio, and it's put the most recently-appointed Minister of Energy, Glenn Thibeault, in the political cross-hairs.

That's according to Robert Fisher, a political analyst covering Queen's Park.

He said even though the government promised in its throne speech that it will remove the provincial portion of the harmonized sales tax from electricity bills, the Liberals' handling of hydro is proving unpopular with many residents and opposition MPPs.

Veteran political analyst Robert Fisher delivers his insights into Ontario politics every two weeks. (CBC)

The CBC's Markus Schwabe spoke with Fisher, and here's an edited and abridged transcript of that conversation. You can listen to the full interview by clicking the image at the top of this page, or by clicking here.

The Liberals have promised to remove the provincial portion of the harmonized sales tax from hydro bills, but is that catching on with the public?

No, not really. If you watch question period, there continues to be a daily pounding from the opposition on the hydro file, which remains a big issue.

The Liberals have to begin to counter-punch on this, which means more energy-related announcements will likely be forthcoming from Glenn Thibeault, while the Progressive Conservatives and the NDP continue to hammer away at the government day after day in question period.

The opposition is also using a lot of anecdotal evidence — a tactic often favoured by the Liberals — including stories from the ridings about how people have been impacted by hydro rates, and how people feel about the sell-off of Hydro One.

The province also announced that the green energy initiative will be scrapped, promising further hydro savings, but the provincial Green Party is saying that it's a short sighted move, is it?

It's a bit of a gamble, because stopping things like wind farm developments gets one issue off the back of Kathleen Wynne, but these are projects that would have developed over decades. In addition, there are some people — including those in the Liberal party —that feel this is the wrong way to go.

There is a great divide on this issue in Ontario, and how Thibeault handles it and how he responds to the opposition may determine whether the Liberals retain power in the next election.

How surprised do you think the Liberals were by the booing of Premier Kathleen Wynne at the International Plowing Match, especially considering it came just after the hydro HST rebate announcement?

I think the government thought the rebate announcement would quell the anger over hydro costs, but, as was clearly seen at the plowing match, the energy issue is proving to be unpopular, especially in rural and northern Ontario.

The Financial Accountability Officer also added fuel to the fire through a recent report that areas outside of large urban centres are paying disproportionately more for electricity than residents in big cities like Toronto and Ottawa.

Again, it's an issue that refuses to go away, and it's not hard to expect more booing from crowds in various parts of the province, unless the government can get a better handle on the hydro issue.

What's the strategy going to be for the Liberals going forward?

Largely to try and ride out the storm, similarly to past scandals like the gas plant issue, despite the daily pounding at Queen's Park.

Glenn Thibeault knows that every day he's going to feel the heat from the opposition, as evidenced, for example by Tuesday's question period where, of the 30 questions asked by members from all parties over a one-hour period, 20 of them were about hydro. Thirteen of those went to Thibeault or were passed to him by the Premier.

By and large, Thibeault's shoulders are the ones that this issue rests on for the Wynne Liberals. Up to this point, he's giving as good as he gets, but the hydro issue is the one that will determine whether the opposition is successful in 'pulling the plug' on the sitting government.