Progressive Conservative and New Democratic politicians say an “embarrassing” byelection loss is the only reason Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne admitted that the rising cost of hydro across the province is an “urgent issue” for the Liberal government.
Wynne’s concession came just days after her party lost a long-held Liberal seat in the Scarborough-Rouge River byelection to the PCs.
Ontario PC Energy Critic MPP John Yakabuski told Global News Thursday he feels the government is finally recognizing that the price of hydro was driving people into “energy poverty,” something he said consumers and politicians had raised for several years.
“And we were met with deaf ears on the part of the Liberal government, the energy minister even just a couple of weeks ago said, ‘No, no, no it’s not a crisis,'” he said, referring to a Global News interview with Energy Minister Glenn Thibeault.
Yakabuski said the fact that 60,000 households across Ontario had their electricity shut off is a clear indication there is an energy affordability crisis in the province, and he says there needs to be a clear plan of action put into place by the Liberals.
“Finally they’re getting around to at least admitting it, with no details about what they might do to mitigate it at this point,” he said, adding that the Liberals had signed expensive contracts with “Liberal-friendly developers” who are reaping huge profits.
“I’m not sure what they can do because they’ve created all of the problems. … the decisions that they made over the past several years are the ones that have caused this problem.”
PC MPP Lisa Thompson said that if Wynne was “serious” about addressing the “electricity crisis in Ontario,” she would immediately halt any further sale of Hydro One and cease signing lucrative energy contracts.
“I think the premier is still stinging from her embarrassing loss last week in Scarborough-Rouge River and she’s trying to change the channel and give the air of wanting to listen and react positively to the concerns of Ontarians and guess what? … they’re just not buying it,” she said. “Because they’ve lost trust in this premier and in the Liberal government.”
Thompson put forth a petition to reduce energy rates earlier this month and said she has had thousands of Ontarians sign it in support of driving the prices down.
“It’s a sad state of affairs in this province and it’s all under Premier Wynne and her Liberal government watch,” Thompson said, adding that her party would have a much different approach to mitigating the issue quickly.
“Our plan is to have a fulsome discussion in a policy advisory committee for energy whereby we’re bringing in stakeholders, we’re bringing feet on the street if you will, to help us address and identify exactly what the issues are and best practices on a way forward.”
NDP energy critic Peter Tabuns said he believes the Liberal government wanted to “ignore” the issue, but their surprising byelection loss forced it into the spotlight.
“My experience with them is the only thing that wakes them up is when they lose an election,” Tabuns said.
“They’ve been mismanaging this file. They’ve made very stupid mistakes. They’ve done things that really damaged Ontario, and they’re continuing to do so with a selloff to Hydro One, but they’ve tried to ignore all that — they’ve tried to put it behind them.
“When they lose an election, they can’t ignore it anymore.”
Wynne prorogued the Ontario legislature Thursday to allow her government to deliver a throne speech Monday, which Ontario Attorney General Yasir Naqvi said was a way to shift the government’s focus in a new direction.
“The speech from the throne is a normal tradition for a government and will allow us to refocus our priorities and reset the legislative agenda with a new set of government priorities,” he said.
“The details will be outlined in the speech from the throne on Monday from the lieutenant governor but as the premier has said, we will continue to focus on building Ontario up.”
Thompson said the byelection loss was a “serious wake up call” to the Liberals and “unaffordable” electricity rates are now “coming and home and resting on their shoulders.”
“We can’t lose sight of the fact that Ontarians have lost trust in this government,” she said.
“No matter how many times they choose to hit the refresh button and prorogue, it doesn’t deny the fact that their mismanagement over the last 13 years has caused a crisis in this province and people just don’t trust them any longer.”
A spokesperson from the Ministry of Energy said the throne speech would serve to provide “an opportunity to outline what we’re doing for people and what we will be focusing on for the second half of our mandate.”
“We recognize that there’s a cost associated with the important investments we’ve made to make our energy system clean, safe and reliable,” the statement said.
“This is a concern we’ve heard from Ontarians and will use to inform our actions moving forward. We are committed to helping people in their everyday lives and look forward to sharing further details in Monday’s throne.”
Andrew Russell, Jacques Bourbeau, Kieron O’Dea, Leslie Whyte and Sasha Campbell contributed to this report