TORONTO – Taxpayer-funded ads about planned hydro bill reductions put the Liberal government in contempt of parliament, the Opposition charged Monday.
Both the Progressive Conservatives and NDP say the radio and social media ads are only meant to boost the popularity of a party sagging in the polls.
Energy Minister Glenn Thibeault said the government has so far spent less than $1 million – how much less, he wouldn’t say – on the ads, but that adding print and TV to the campaign later is likely.
“It’s important for us to make sure that we let everyone know about the 25-per-cent reduction that’s coming,” he said.
The ads say people will receive an average of 25 per cent off their hydro bills this summer and rate increases are being held to inflation for four years. It doesn’t mention that the 25 per cent includes an eight-per-cent reduction that already took effect Jan. 1.
Thibeault noted that not a lot of people know about the Ontario Electricity Support Program for low-income ratepayers, so it’s important to inform people of hydro relief programs.
But, Progressive Conservative Leader Patrick Brown noted, the OESP requires people to sign up to qualify. The planned additional 17-per-cent reduction is going on bills automatically.
“This is all about Liberals trying to help themselves,” he said. “They’re going to waste hundreds of thousands of dollars, maybe millions, of taxpayer dollars not towards reducing hydro bills, but to promote themselves.”
NDP Leader Andrea Horwath said public money is being used for partisan purposes.
“The Liberals have been in bad shape politically for some time now,” she said. “This phantom plan that they threw out the door was a way to save their own political skin – it had nothing to do with the people of Ontario.”
The Progressive Conservatives believe the ads are a case of contempt of parliament because no legislation has been passed or even tabled, and promoting the policy as definite presumes the will of the house.
But government house leader Yasir Naqvi said the ads don’t interfere with the proceedings of the house because there is nothing to interfere with, since no legislation has yet been introduced.
The Speaker will rule at a later time.
Auditor general Bonnie Lysyk has said the ads likely wouldn’t have been approved under old government advertising rules that gave her more discretion to deny ads she felt were partisan.
© 2017 The Canadian Press