Francesca Dobbyn of United Way Bruce Grey in Ontario shared on air that she was worried someone in her community would die because of hugely expensive electricity costs.
I spent a great deal of time with the blunt-speaking Dobbyn a year ago as she detailed how the price of electricity had pushed some families into crisis mode. As temperatures plunged outside and inside their homes people panicked. They could not afford their electricity bills. Charities pitched in. The United Way, church benevolent funds, social services, food banks — all opened their cheque books. But it’s not enough.
I spoke with Ontario residents wearing parkas inside their homes, cooking on barbecues, lighting their homes with candles and flashlights. Good people had reached desperation. As Dobbyn explained, it’s not that they didn’t want to pay for electricity, but that they just couldn’t pay for it.
The cause for the crushing hydro rates? The policies of Kathleen Wynne’s current and Dalton McGuinty’s previous governments.
Unwilling to listen to their own experts and in love with a vision of renewables meeting Ontario’s energy requirements, the Liberals, according the 2015 report by provincial auditor general Bonnie Lysyk, had created a $37-billion debt in so-called “Global Adjustment” payments to be forced on consumers who had already experienced a 70-per-cent rise in hydro bills between 2006 and 2014.
Public pressure on Wynne’s government would eventually cause her to admit to having committed a “mistake.”
The mistake was followed by a Hail Mary pass: a 25-per-cent reduction in hydro rates initiated in 2016 through what the Liberals dubbed, The Fair Hydro Plan. How Fair? Lysyk weighed in again. The province was guilty of improperly accounting for $26 billion in extra debt that it was accumulating to make the 25-per-cent drop in hydro rates possible. The money was being borrowed through Ontario Power Generation. That way it would not show on the province’s books as money owing. An additional $4 billion in interest debt was possible, according to the auditor general.
Wynne and her cabinet accused Lysyk of ignorance and motored on, leaving to whomever might be in government in 2028 or so to explain spiking electricity bills to consumers.
The public remained openly cynical. Desperate for a boost in the polls, the Liberals chose to raise the minimum wage to $14 on Jan. 1 of this year. They were warned business could not absorb such a hike and its ancillary requirements, but Wynne plowed on. Business responded with media focus on a Tim Hortons franchise owned by Ron Joyce Jr., son of the Hortons co-founder.
Employee hours of work would be impacted, as would benefits. Other businesses followed with reactions to the new hourly minimum.
The premier now speaks of Ontario’s unemployment being at a 17-year low and the province’s real GDP growing faster than in the rest of Canada. She doesn’t speak of onerous taxation and regulation directed at small business owners, who are often close to the margins of survival after dealing with Queens Park’s interference.
Wynne ignores further billions unloaded on taxpayers through flubs like the gas plants mess. That the province carries a brutal non-sovereign debt is ignored, as are the sweet deals the Liberals delivered to unions, passing the expense to taxpayers.
It is rich indeed for Wynne to challenge the Joyce family to a performance comparison. This is a family which has created many thousands of jobs across Canada and whose business ventures have filled provincial and federal treasuries with tax revenue.
If anyone is responsible for harming minimum wage employees in Ontario, it is the premier and her desperate vote-hunting. After all, premier, it is you and your government which left many poorer Ontarians quite literally in the dark.
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