Ontario throne speech promises electricity bill rebates
Provincial government also promises to create 100,000 child-care spaces
Ontario's Liberal government promised in Monday's throne speech that it will provide rebates to urban and rural residents and small businesses to help offset high electricity rates.
Lt.-Gov. Elizabeth Dowdeswell, who delivered the throne speech at the Ontario Legislature, outlined the government's priorities before the next election, expected in spring 2018, saying it will remove the provincial portion of the harmonized sales tax from electricity bills.
"Whether in Kenora, Sudbury, Belleville, London or Barrie, your government has listened to and has heard your concerns. It recognizes that the cost of electricity is now stretching family budgets," she said.
Dowdeswell said the government will introduce legislation to add the rebates directly to consumers' electricity bills.
Premier Kathleen Wynne confirmed Tuesday in an interview with CBC's Metro Morning that the rebate will be "for everyone across the province.
"It will come right off people's bills every month," Wynne said.
Ontario residents will receive a rebate on electricity bills that is equal to the provincial portion (eight per cent) of the 13 per cent harmonized sales tax (HST) — a rebate that amounts to about $130 a year for a typical household.
Rural residents who are eligible will receive a larger rebate, about $45 a month or $540 a year.
The rebate would go into effect on Jan. 1.
"In recognition of the unique and special circumstances associated with the electricity cost-of-service for rural ratepayers, the existing rural support program would be significantly enhanced to provide even more on-bill savings for Ontario's eligible rural customers," she said.
"Your government also intends to implement new measures to ensure that Ontario commercial and industrial ratepayers can also benefit from lower electricity costs," she said.
Dowdeswell said the Ontario government also plans to bring in a balanced budget for 2017-18 and to create 100,000 new child-care spaces for kids up to age four, over five years, starting in 2017, to ensure families have access to quality daycare.
As well, the government promises to put a new emphasis on math skills after half of all Grade 6 students failed to meet the provincial math standard this year, continuing a steady decline in test scores over the past five years.
Other government priorities include investing in skills training for young people, and strengthening health care, with 18 more hospitals completing renovations or rebuilds over the next five years.
It promises to reduce wait times to see a specialist.
The Ontario Legislature was prorogued last week and Premier Kathleen Wynne had indicated the throne speech would address electricity rates.
Progressive Conservative Leader Patrick Brown said the government is bringing in the rebate because it lost the recent byelection in Scarborough Rouge-River, an indication it can no longer ignore the effect of high hydro bills on Ontario residents.
Brown said the throne speech is "too little, too late" and it shows that the government is out of touch with voters. He said the rebate will not stop hydro rates from climbing.
"Let's be clear, hydro rates are not going down," he said. "This is merely a Band-Aid solution. If the Liberals were serious about tackling the energy crisis, the government would have committed to stop signing contracts we do not need and immediately halt further sales of Hydro One.
"This is a small step. What Ontario families want is they want policies to change. People are struggling," he said.
Brown said he is not convinced the government will be able to bring in a balanced budget because he believes the numbers do not add up.
Ontario NDP Leader Andrea Horwath said the Liberal government should permanently remove the HST from hydro bills and that the rebate should start immediately.
"Just take the HST off of hydro already," she said. "The only reason that we have the HST on our hydro bills is because the Liberals put it there. People will have to wait four months — people need real relief now."
Horwath said the government should also stop any further sell-off of Hydro One, the transmission utility.
"We need to have an electricity system that is public and that acts in the public interest."
Horwath said there are unanswered questions about the promise of more child-care spaces.
"The question is: will parents be able to afford to put their children into those child-care spaces?"
She said the government should focus on creating good jobs in Ontario, which she defined as having competitive salaries, predictable schedules and benefits.
Christine Van Geyn, Ontario director of the Canadian Taxpayers Federation, said she is disappointed with the promise of rebates because she said rebates do not stop electricity rates from climbing.
"They have done nothing to tackle the long-term problem. This is not a long-term solution," she said.
Van Geyn said the rebate will provide the government with "political relief" instead of actually helping Ontario residents.
"The government announced a plan to remove provincial HST from hydro bills. But with hydro rates rising an average eight per cent per year, what is their long-term solution? They can't cut the HST again next year," she said.
With files from The Canadian Press