TORONTO – Ontario’s opposition parties promised help Monday to deal with soaring electricity bills, which they blamed on the Liberals’ energy policies, as the campaign for the June 12 election entered its second week.
The Liberals are particularly vulnerable on the energy file after cancelling two gas plants prior to the last election in 2011 at a cost to taxpayers of up to $1.1 billion, and with a planned 33 per cent hike in electricity bills over the next three years.
The Tories also targeted generous subsidies under the Liberals’ Green Energy Act in their pledge to keep the rate hikes lower than forecast.
“We need to end these expensive subsidies for the wind and solar projects that are driving our rates higher and higher still,” said Progressive Conservative Leader Tim Hudak. “It doesn’t make any sense to add on more expensive power we don’t need.”
Visiting a factory in Smithville, in his own riding in the Niagara Peninsula, Hudak also promised to reduce the number of government electricity agencies, and said he’d cut the “bloated” bureaucracy at Hydro One and Ontario Power Generation to help get electricity rates low enough to generate 40,000 new jobs.
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“We need to pare down that massive hydro bureaucracy,” he said.
“They have 11,000 people in the hydro bureaucracy making $100,000 a year, can you believe that?”
Campaigning in Thunder Bay, Ont., New Democrat Leader Andrea Horwath said “people are shocked when they open their electricity bills” and promised to scrap the provincial portion of HST on hydro bills if she becomes premier.
The NDP promise would save homeowners about $120 a year, she said.
“Instead of making life affordable, the Liberals decided to add an unfair tax on top of the highest electricity rates in the country,” said Horwath. “We’re going to take it off and make life affordable for families.”
Premier Kathleen Wynne spent the first part of her day on the radio, defending the decisions to cancel planned gas plants in Oakville and Mississauga, which the opposition parties called an expensive Liberal seat saver program.
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Wynne said former premier Dalton McGuinty did “what he believed was right,” but added that she has tried to rectify mistakes that she believes were made.
Campaigning later in Vaughan, north of Toronto, Wynne defended the Green Energy Act, and said rates went up mainly because the government had to invest billions of dollars to repair and upgrade Ontario’s electricity system after years of neglect.
“There’s a cost associated with that, and so we are working to make sure that there are programs and supports in place for people who are struggling to pay for their electricity,” she said. “But are we going to back away from clean, renewable energy? No, we’re not going to do that.”
Hudak lashed out at both the Liberals and the NDP for rising electricity bills.
“A billion dollars in the gas plants scandal to save a couple Liberal seats and you folks got stuck with the bill,” he said.
“And the NDP, they’re really just the great pretenders. They say they care about hydro rates but they voted with the Liberals each and every time.”
Wynne went on the attack against Hudak’s plan to wipe out 100,000 public sector jobs in an effort to eliminate the $12.5-billion deficit in just two years.
“We have a plan to cut ribbons at construction sites. Tim Hudak’s plan is to cut jobs at construction sites,” she said.
“Our steady balanced approach would invest in transit, invest in infrastructure, and it invests in skills training to help the people of Ontario get good jobs.”
Hudak said he’s giving people the “hard talk and the plain truth,” while the Liberals and NDP are making promises Ontario can’t afford.
“If this were a popularity contest, you’d promise everything under the sun to all people,” he said. “I’m actually proposing some pretty tough choices, but I think we owe it to Ontarians to be honest with them about the mess that we’re in.”
© The Canadian Press, 2014