Ontario Liberals eye separate bill to end winter electricity disconnections

. Lars Hagberg / The Canadian Press

TORONTO – Ontario’s Liberal government will introduce legislation Wednesday to end disconnections of electricity during the winter months, if all of the local distribution companies don’t voluntarily stop.

Both opposition parties have been pressuring the government over the practice, calling on the Liberals to table a separate piece of legislation to deal with it, instead of having it as a section of the omnibus Burden Reduction Act. But the government denied their attempts to get that done Tuesday.

All parties traded shots over who supported that bill and when, and who should pass what.

READ MORE: Ontario energy minister calls on utility companies to end winter disconnections

“I am disappointed that a motion was put forward to the House today and the government said no,” said Progressive Conservative Leader Patrick Brown. “They could have ended it today. I don’t want to delay a week. I don’t want to delay another day. We need action on winter disconnects today.”

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Energy Minister Glenn Thibeault last week asked all Ontario electricity distribution companies to voluntarily stop disconnecting customers’ power during the winter months for non-payment.

He said “quite a few” have already complied, but if all have not done so by midnight, the government will introduce standalone legislation Wednesday.

“We’ve been asking to have this done since June, so we recognize this is an issue,” Thibeault said.

READ MORE: Brown and Horwath demand immediate end to winter hydro disconnections

NDP Leader Andrea Horwath said it should happen through legislation anyway.

“It should not be about the whim or the good nature of the utilities,” she said. “It should be the law in the province of Ontario that people’s electricity bills do not get cut off.”

The majority Liberal government could have passed the omnibus legislation already, or they could have supported attempts from both opposition parties to get standalone bills passed Tuesday, she said.

“It appears that the premier will only agree to keeping people’s power on if she and her Liberal party get the political win,” she said in question period. “Shame on her.”

READ MORE: Ontario Energy Minister says relief from winter disconnections won’t come this year

About 60,000 disconnections occur in Ontario each year, though the Ontario Energy Board doesn’t have seasonal data. The government notes that most customers are re-connected within 48 hours.

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Hydro One has already stopped the winter disconnection practice and has said it would re-connect 1,400 customers whose electricity was cut off for not paying their bills.

Progressive Conservative Todd Smith said rising hydro rates are the reason the winter disconnection issue is “out of control.”

“People can no longer afford to pay their electricity bills,” he said. “They’re doing the best that they can to try and pay their bills.”

Wynne has promised more relief and a source familiar with the discussions said that incrementally increasing an eight-per-cent rebate is being considered. The government is also considering more targeted relief for people who are particularly struggling, such as those in rural and northern communities and low-income ratepayers.