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Angry rural Ontario hydro customers stage protest over rising costs

WATCH ABOVE: Rural Ontario hydro customers who've been complaining about skyrocketing rates protested in Bancroft today demanding the government offer more relief. As Sean O'Shea reports, they say the high cost of electricity is forcing them to make unacceptable choices.

Rural Ontarians say they’re increasingly facing a stark choice between putting food on their tables or paying their hydro electric bills.

At a protest rally in Bancroft, they called on Ontario’s Liberal government to change that.

“It’s about getting attention–putting pressure on those in power,” said Brad Culver, a local resident protesting against rising hydro rates.

Many protesters, some dressed as gnomes, called on Hydro One to stop issuing disconnection notices to customers who’ve fallen behind in their bills.

“The thing I find most infuriating is the disconnects,” said Jane Kali with North Hastings Community Trust, one of the event organizers.

“Many of us in rural areas rely on pumps for water. We need electricity to move that water into our house. If hydro disconnects us, we can’t have a drink of water — we can’t have a shower,” said Kali.

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“I know people who have had their hydro disconnected for more than a year.”

Rural hydro customers face higher charges for power because of delivery charges based on the distance the electricity must travel to reach their homes. Some at the rally say they spend $300 to $500 a month on hydro.

“The minister of energy says there’s no crisis,” said Culver, dismissing the Ontario government’s recent announcement to provide $1 billion in relief to financially-challenged customers.

“It’s peanuts,” said Culver.

Chanting “power to the people” protesters vow to keep up pressure on the government.

“Only if they start to fear they will be disconnected from power will they stop the disconnects,” said Mike Balkwill with the Put Food in the Budget social justice campaign, a group that was formed in 2009 when former Premier Dalton McGuinty’s government reduced some social assistance provisions.

READ MORE: Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne booed over rising hydro rates

The effects of higher hydro rates are affecting the sick and elderly especially, according to those who work with health professionals.

“One of my physician colleagues cared for a woman who was dying at home and the hydro had been cut off because of arrears,” said Kathy Hardill of Health Providers Against Poverty.

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“In a vain attempt to ease her passing, her son hooked up a little electric fan to a car battery. This, in the richest province in the country, is shameful.”

WATCH: Energy minister faces ratepayers as fallout over rural Ontario hydro rates continues (Sept. 16)

Participants at the rally said the government can’t ignore the plight of rural residents even though it can be easy to do that.

Artist Jane Eastman said rural poverty doesn’t show itself the way it does in a metropolitan area.

“In rural Ontario, you can be poor and people won’t be noticed the way you would in the city.”