EDITOR’S NOTE: This story has been updated to better reflect information provided by the Ontario Energy Board.
The leaders of Ontario’s Opposition parties are calling on the provincial government to impose an immediate ban on winter electricity disconnections in Ontario. If the government were to implement such a ban, even without passing legislation, Ontario’s energy regulator says they’d be required to implement it.
Progressive Conservative leader Patrick Brown and NDP leader Andrea Horwath say cutting off a customer’s power in the middle of winter is “inhumane” and cannot be tolerated any longer.
“It’s not acceptable,” said Brown. “We had 60,000 Ontarians who were disconnected [in 2015]. We have 560,000 plus who are in arrears. That’s almost 600,000 Ontarians who are struggling with their Hydro bill to the point where they might be cut off.
WATCH: Ontario NDP leader Andrea Horwath said on Thursday that if the government really cared about people freezing during winter, they should expedite legislation to put an end to winter hydro disconnections.
Brown is calling on the Liberal government to put forward a piece of legislation to end winter disconnections. If that were to happen, Brown says his party would support it.
“I would waive debate. I would tell the government to support it right away and I would applaud them for doing that,” Brown said.
Horwath, who’s promised to end all disconnections if elected premier, is also encouraging Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne to move more quickly to end the “callous” practice of cutting people off in the winter. But she cautions, her party’s support will only be extended to legislation that addresses just the disconnect issue, and is not part of a larger, so-called ‘omnibus’ bill.
“Absolutely, anything that can be done to convince the Liberals to do the right thing,” Horwath said. “Get it through the House quickly. Absolutely, I’m 100 per cent in favour of that.”
WATCH: Late power bill payment could get you disconnected, even in winter.
Renewed demands to end winter disconnections follow a Global News report Thursday that revealed it’s unlikely the Provincial Legislature will be able to pass a bill in time to prevent utility companies from pulling the plug on customers this winter.
That piece of legislation, Bill 27, or the Burden Reduction Act, is a massive 158-page omnibus Bill affecting one-third of all government ministries and touching 17 pieces of legislation. Bill 27 includes a single provision – just 45 words – that will give the Ontario Energy Board the authority to decide when utility companies can and cannot disconnect a customer for non-payment.
Asked last Thursday why the government doesn’t simply pass the provision affecting winter disconnects as a standalone piece of legislation – particularly given that both the Conservatives and NDP support ending winter disconnections – Thibeault was ambiguous and suggested opposition parties were to blame.
“That would have been something we would have been more than happy to do,” Thibeault said. “But you know what? It was something that was brought forward. We weren’t expecting the opposition parties to be so vocal. And you know what? We have to bring it through its process.”
WATCH: Energy Minister Glenn Thibeault says relief from disconnections won’t come until next year
But Brown and Horwath say the Liberals’ failure to end winter disconnections in time to help those struggling with rising energy costs this winter is a clear case of a government playing politics with the lives of ordinary Ontarians.
Their argument is that the Liberals enjoy a strong legislative majority and have used this power to fast-track legislation multiple times in the past – without the assistance of opposition parties.
“If the government wanted to do this tomorrow they could,” Brown said. “I don’t want more delays and I’m calling on the government, calling on the minister, calling on this Liberal Party to finally do the right thing on Hydro.”
Horwath is even more explicit, saying the government needs to put an end to political gamesmanship and stop using “Harper-style” omnibus Bills to bury important provisions that would ease the suffering of Ontarians who face the constant threat of disconnection during winter months.
“What the government should be doing is pulling out the section of Bill 27 that references hydro cut-offs,” Horwath said. “When it comes to something as simple as a moratorium on ending Hydro One and other utilities from shutting off the hydro to people in the winter months, that has to be dealt with separately.”
WATCH: Ontario farmer meets with Premier Kathleen Wynne about skyrocketing hydro rates
Brown also suggests the government doesn’t even need legislation to end winter disconnects.
Based on research done by his own policy analysts, Brown says Energy Minister Glenn Thibeault could issue a ministerial directive ordering the OEB to prevent utility companies from shutting off the power to customers during the winter.
“This government has done record amounts of ministerial directives,” Brown said. “They have no problems inserting politics into energy. But when it comes to helping people, they try to act like it’s arms-length.
WATCH: Hydro customer threatened with disconnection after missing 1 payment
Asked if they would obey such a directive, the OEB said they are required under the law to follow any order issued by the energy minister.
“Where the Minister issues an Lieutenant Governor in Council approved directive to the OEB under the OEB Act, the Act states that the OEB shall implement it,” said Lars Hansen, an OEB spokesperson.
A spokesperson for the Minister of Energy says it has been very clear with local utilities that the Liberal government is “absolutely opposed to winter disconnects.” With regard to opposition demands for quick action to stop disconnects, the spokesperson said “it’s easy for the opposition to sit back and play political games… or coming up with ideas of their own. We are hopeful that the opposition will do the right thing for Ontarians and support the swift passage of this important piece of legislation.”
Brown, meanwhile, says if Thibeault and Wynne really cared and wanted to end winter disconnects, they’d stop hiding behind contentious legislation and direct the OEB to end the practice immediately.
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