Justin Trudeau was confronted by the tearful pleas of an Ontario woman upset about the cost of her hydro bill during a town hall forum in Peterborough, Ont., as the prime minister continued his cross-country tour Friday.
“Something is wrong now Mr. Trudeau. My heat and hydro now cost me more than my mortgage,” said Kathy Katula, of Buckhorn, Ont., to a round of applause. “I now not only work 75 hours a week, I stay and work 15 hours a day just so I don’t lose my home.”
WATCH: Responsibility of provinces to fight rising hydro costs, Trudeau says
Katula — a mother of four, with three grandchildren — asked Trudeau how she was supposed to afford a hydro bill that has risen above $1,000 a month and asked him to justify the federal government’s planned carbon tax.
“I make $50,000 a year Mr. Trudeau and I am living in energy poverty,” Katula said through tears. “Please tell me how are you going to fix that for me and all of us in rural Ontario?”
Trudeau pointed out while hydro prices are a provincial matter his government’s plan to put a price on carbon pollution was necessary to fight climate change.
“We are a country in which anyone with a quarter of your strength, of your drive should be thriving and focused on how are you going to spoil your grandchildren with all of your energy as opposed to how are you going to get through the week or the day,” Trudeau said.
WATCH: Kathleen Wynne open to using more tax revenue to lower hydro bills
The prime minister was in Peterborough as part of his campaign-style road trip to connect with Canadians amid controversies over so-called cash-for-access political fundraising and questions about vacation at a private island in the Bahamas belonging to the Aga Khan, the well-known billionaire, spiritual leader and philanthropist.
“Hydro bills are provincial, but as you point out the federal government’s decision to put a price on carbon is something we have moved forward with and it’s one that is causing consternation amongst a broad range of people,” he said.
An ongoing investigation by Global News has examined how skyrocketing electricity prices in Ontario are squeezing the overstretched pocketbooks of residents and businesses and how a growing number of households are being disconnected for failing to pay their bills.
The Liberals announced in the fall they will price carbon pollution nationwide at $50 per tonne of carbon dioxide by 2022. The Liberals have said the plan will be revenue neutral and that taxes will remain in provincial coffers.
Trudeau said he has left the carbon pricing plan in the hands of the provinces – four of which already have plans to price carbon, including B.C., Alberta, Ontario and Quebec.
“We need to realize that we are in a time of transition right now, that the world is moving off of fossil fuels. The extreme weather events that are coming are going to be incredibly expensive not just for our communities but for our agriculture, for people in the north, people right across the country,” Trudeau said. “We are not taking any money outside of the jurisdictions that pay those carbon taxes.”
In 2015, the most recent year for which data is available, Ontario utility providers disconnected nearly 60,000 customers from their electricity services for non-payment. Many of these customers, upwards of 95 per cent, were reconnected within two business days. At the end of 2015, more than 565,000 customers in Ontario were behind on their hydro bills to the tune of $172 million.
The hydro crisis has become the No. 1 issue for Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne and led her government to remove the eight per-cent-provincial portion of the HST on hydro bills, effective Jan 1. It’s expected to save the average homeowner about $11 monthly, or $130 a year.
However, those savings could be offset by new fees under Wynne’s effort to fight climate change. Under Wynne’s cap-and-trade system homeowners can expect to pay an extra $80 a year on natural gas in 2017 and drivers have seen gas prices rise about 4.3 cents a litre.