Playing a shell game
Premier Dalton McGuinty awoke earlier this week and noticed a distinct chill in the crisp fall air.
This, he reasoned, might force people to turn up the furnace, even though they were reluctant to do so, knowing that Ontario’s electricity rates had climbed 20 per cent over the last six months.
This might have been the genesis of the Clean Air Benefit that will temporarily decrease hydro rates by 10 per cent.
“We have to make sure families can cope,” he explained to a group of reporters on Wednesday. “It is about listening and understanding the pressures that families are experiencing and providing them with a little bit of help. It is as simple as that.”
Really? One could argue it’s not simple at all. Nor is it the economic pressure faced by over-extended families that has McGuinty worried.
It’s the effect his green energy policies will have on his party. With less than a year to the next provincial election, voters aren’t likely to forget that by 2015, they will have seen their rates soar by an astonishing 46 per cent more. That’s hardly a good reason to keep someone in power.
The political posturing couldn’t be more obvious. The government will spend about $1 billion to hand out these “benefits” to ratepayers. Since it doesn’t actually have that money (it was to come from those higher hydro rates) the government will have to borrow the money, which will ultimately come out of taxpayers’ pockets.
“It’s a classic shell game,” said Tom Adams, a former Energy Probe CEO and consultant. “They are bribing the voters with their own money.”
Exactly. To make the situation worse, it won’t matter how Ontario votes in the future. Energy rates will continue to increase because the Liberals have already signed contracts that give sizable subsidies to companies in the renewable energy field. The deed is done.
Opposition members haven’t let that pass. Nor have they failed to mention that the 10 per cent benefit can’t make up for the fact the Liberals slapped the hated 13 per cent HST on what is generally regarded to be an essential service.
Ontario NDP Leader Andrea Horwath, who has dogged the premier relentlessly over this issue, can take comfort in the fact that as the weather cooled, her criticisms began to gain momentum.
“It should never have been put on hydro in the first place,” she said of the HST. Horwath is right. But that’s something McGuinty should have considered before making this ill-fated decision.
To backpedal again, as he did with the eco tax, will only burden taxpayers more.
They aren’t getting a break on hydro rates. They’re just seeing their payments deferred. With an election just around the corner, no wonder the Liberal caucus is starting to shiver.
ANDREA HORWATH, WHO HAS DOGGED THE PREMIER RELENTLESSLY OVER THIS ISSUE, CAN TAKE COMFORT IN THE FACT THAT AS THE WEATHER COOLED, HER CRITICISMS BEGAN TO GAIN MOMENTUM.