Metro Morning

Hydro rebate a permanent change, Kathleen Wynne tells Metro Morning

A day after she hit the reset button on her government, Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne discussed hydro rebates and other issues on CBC's Metro Morning Tuesday.

After throne speech, premier discussed her government's priorities, including child care, hydro, education

Premier Kathleen Wynne told Metro Morning that a hydro rebate announced in Monday's throne speech will be a permanent measure. (CBC)

A day after she hit the reset button on her government, Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne discussed hydro rebates and other issues on CBC's Metro Morning Tuesday.

On Monday, Lt.-Gov. Elizabeth Dowdeswell delivered a throne speech that outlined the government's priorities before the next election, which is expected in spring 2018.

Among the highlights was a hydro rebate for urban and rural residents and small businesses.

Under the plan, the government will remove the provincial portion of the harmonized sales tax from hydro bills.

When asked how long the rebate will last, Wynne told Metro Morning Tuesday that the change is a permanent one.

"As far as we're concerned, this is a change that we are making permanently," Wynne said. "We haven't said this is something that we will do for a few months. This is something that we are putting in place and we believe it's the right thing to do."

The Liberals will introduce legislation that would call for the rebates to be applied directly to consumers' electricity bills. The rebate would go into effect on Jan. 1, 2017.

Wynne said Tuesday that the hydro rebate plan will cost about $1 billion. Asked where that money will come from, she would only say that, when public accounts come out in a few weeks, they will show that the government can afford the plan while sticking to its pledge to balance the budget next year.

Wynne said she understands that changes to the province's electricity system – namely shuttering coal-fired plants – have led to increased costs for rate-payers.

"I know people have been struggling to pay their electricity bills in many parts of the province, and so that's why we are making this change," she said. "But we couldn't do that until we were able to do it in a responsible way."

'Too little, too late'

The throne speech also outlined government promises to create 100,000 new child-care spaces, focus on math instruction after half of Grade 6 students failed to meet the provincial math standard this year, and reduce wait times in the health-care system.

The opposition criticized the government over the hydro rebate plan. Progressive Conservative Leader Patrick Brown said after the speech that the plan is "too little, too late," calling it a "Band-Aid solution" for keeping rising hydro rates in check.

PC finance critic Vic Fedeli repeated that Tuesday, adding that the government should halt any further sale of Hydro One, as well as stop bringing surplus energy into the province's system.

"We are in a hole that they are going to keep digging," Fedeli told Metro Morning.

On the issue of selling Hydro One, Wynne said the move allows the government to take money from one asset and invest it in another, namely transit and transportation infrastructure and other priorities.

"All of that is about helping people get jobs, or for their communities to thrive, or for their kids to have a decent school to go to," Wynne said.

NDP Leader Andrea Horwath said the government should permanently remove HST from hydro bills, and that the rebate should start immediately.

Horwath told Metro Morning that her party never supported putting provincial sales tax on hydro bills, but called the government's move yesterday "a very small step."

"Both Liberals and Conservatives have gone in the direction of increasing privatization in our electricity system for decades now, and that is one of the underlying problems we have in an electricity system that was once public and run in the public interest and now is vastly private and run in the private interest," Horwath said Tuesday. "And that's where some of our major underlying costs are."

On the issue of adding more child-care spaces, Horwath said the high cost of child care and the quality of care must be addressed as well, noting that child-care costs are "crippling families."

'My job's not done'

Asked whether she will run in the next election, Wynne said she is "absolutely sticking around" for the 2018 vote.

"My job's not done," she said.

Wynne said she's listening to voters' needs on issues such as child care, retirement security and transit, and hopes they see that she is slowly implementing a plan to address these and other issues.

"All along we've been listening to people," she said. "We've put a plan in place and we've been making choices that are allowing us to implement that plan."

With files from Metro Morning