For years, the Coalition Avenir Québec (CAQ) attacked the Liberals for allowing Hydro-Québec to overcharge customers and keeping that money in the government coffers. Now, Opposition parties say the CAQ is doing the exact same thing.
When he was in the Opposition, François Legault demanded Hydro-Quebec reimburse Quebecers for what it had overbilled.
“Eight years in a row, they made errors,” Legault said in April 2017.
He pushed for the then-Liberal government to reimburse Quebecers by offering what worked out to about $350 per customer. Then a CAQ MNA, François Bonnardel said the overcharging amounted to an extra tax on Quebecers.
The CAQ estimates Hydro-Québec has overbilled $1.5 billion, but now that the party is in government, it says it’s going to hold onto that money.
Legault said he never promised to reimburse the money during last fall’s election campaign. Instead, he says what he promised is that “increases will never exceed inflation.”
“(I said) we will put back about $1.5 billion in taxpayers’ pockets, and we will do that in reducing school taxes, childcare tariffs and increasing family allocations,” he said.
Opposition parties are outraged at what they say is clear hypocrisy.
“The situation didn’t change. It’s all the same situation when he was in the Opposition and today,” said Ruba Ghazal, a Québec Solidaire MNA.
“If you ask people to sign a petition when you’re in opposition and doing a big show about it… you can’t say it doesn’t count. It doesn’t work that way,” said PQ Interim Leader Pascal Bérubé.
On Tuesday, former Liberal energy minister Pierre Arcand said his government chose not to reimburse the overbilling because Quebec was in a much worse financial situation than it is today.
“Year after year, we were not having those kinds of surpluses. It was a deficit all the time,” said Arcand, now the Liberal interim leader.
On Tuesday, current Energy Minister Jonatan Julien said public backlash has forced his government to reconsider its position.
“We listened to the message of Quebecers,” he said.
The premier said the reason Quebecers are particularly angry is actually because of what happened in 2014 and 2015: Hydro-Quebec increases exceeded inflation “so people think they’ve been robbed a bit by Hydro-Québec,” Julien explained.
“That’s why I’ve asked the president of Hydro-Québec to do something next year,” Legault said.
Quebecers could see a potential reimbursement in the future but not in Thursday’s budget.