Hydro bills will be the focus as Queen's Park resumes
Premier Kathleen Wynne is promising a plan to help people with their electricity costs
Three issues will dominate the agenda during the spring session of the Ontario Legislature, starting Tuesday:
- hydro; and
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.
- Ontario Liberals eyeing hydro rate cut in the range of 8 per cent: sources
- Wynne signals high hydro delivery charges are in her sights
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 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.
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.
"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."
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.