Analysis

Hydro bills will be the focus as Queen's Park resumes

Three issues will dominate the agenda at the Ontario Legislature this spring: hydro, hydro and hydro.

Premier Kathleen Wynne is promising a plan to help people with their electricity costs

The Wynne government is considering a plan that would bring down the average hydro bill by about eight per cent, CBC News has learned. (Chris Seto/CBC)

Three issues will dominate the agenda during the spring session of the Ontario Legislature, starting Tuesday:

  1. hydro
  2. hydro; and
  3. hydro. 

Sure, Premier Kathleen Wynne's Liberal government will bring in Ontario's first balanced budget in a decade, despite fears it won't. Yes, there will be fusses over six-figure salaries in the public sector. Indeed, the province's policing system is in for its most significant reform in a generation.

All of those are undeniably important. But at the moment, nothing is resonating among Ontario voters quite like the price of electricity. The government knows it, the opposition parties know it. And that means all parties will be doing their utmost in the coming months to gain as much political leverage on hydro as possible.

As I revealed last week, the government is considering a plan that would bring down the average hydro bill by about eight per cent. An announcement is expected soon. 

Wynne isn't publicly confirming the figure but is confirming that the thrust of the plan involves an across-the-board reduction. That's a shift from her stance at the end of last year, when she said the focus would be on "the people having the most trouble with their bills." 

'We recognize that everyone across the province has seen increases in electricity, precipitous increases over the last number of years,' said Premier Kathleen Wynne ahead of Tuesday's resumption of the Ontario Legislature. (Aaron Vincent Elkaim/Canadian Press)

"We recognize that there's more that we need to do for everyone," Wynne told reporters last week. "Everyone across the province has seen increases in electricity, precipitous increases over the last number of years." 

In addition to the across-the-board relief on bills, Wynne is also indicating there will be targeted help for those hurt the most by high hydro costs: rural, northern and low-income households, including measures to soften disproportionately high delivery charges

PC Leader Patrick Brown blames the Liberals' green energy plan for high hydro bills. (Chris Young/The Canadian Press)

Progressive Conservative leader Patrick Brown is dismissing any hydro rate relief from the Liberals as "a shell game."

"What we have is a government that is unwilling to acknowledge its own mistakes, its own mismanagement of the hydro file," Brown said last week in a phone interview. He points the finger for high bills at the Liberals' green energy plan, and for giving too many lucrative wind-power contracts for electricity that isn't needed. 

NDP leader Andrea Horwath is also signalling that hydro costs will be a preoccupation for her party during the session. 

NDP leader Andrea Horwath continues her call to stop any further sale of shares in Hydro One. (Samantha Craggs/CBC)

"It's like Kathleen Wynne hasn't had to open her own hydro bill in the past five years," Horwath told a news conference at Queen's Park on Friday. "The premier acts like she has had no clue what's going on in people's lives." 

All three leaders have been touring the province since the Legislature adjourned in early December. The cost of hydro has been the overarching theme for Wynne, Brown and Horwath during their travels.

The questions that I keep asking myself: will hydro actually resonate this much with voters a year from now, as the Legislature heads into its final session before the June 2018 election? Or will the Liberals be able to neutralize it as an issue by nudging hydro bills downward, even if only in the short term?   

Given how volatile voter sentiment seems to have become in our politics over the past decade or so, I'm counting nothing out.

About the Author

Mike Crawley

Provincial Affairs Reporter

Mike Crawley is provincial affairs reporter in Ontario for CBC News. He has won awards for his reporting on the eHealth spending scandal and flaws in Ontario's welfare-payment computer system. Before joining the CBC in 2005, Mike filed stories from 19 countries in Africa as a freelance journalist and worked as a newspaper reporter in B.C. Follow him on Twitter @CBCQueensPark

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