Lib­er­als eye sep­a­rate bill to end win­ter hy­dro shut-offs

Op­po­si­tion de­cries de­lays in get­ting leg­is­la­tion passed

The Hamilton Spectator - - FRONT PAGE - AL­LI­SON JONES 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.

“I am dis­ap­pointed that a mo­tion was put for­ward to the House to­day and the gov­ern-

ment 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.”

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.

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.”

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 re­con­nected within 48 hours.

Hy­dro One has al­ready stopped the win­ter dis­con­nec­tion prac­tice and has said it would re­con­nect 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.

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