Power and politics

It was reported this week that, if a provincial election were held today, the Liberal Party could be reduced to as few as nine seats in the Ontario legislature. Now, we’re as skeptical of polls as anybody, but that particular projection should come as a shock to no one.

The Liberal government of Kathleen Wynne has a number of anchors around its neck, but the one that’s the biggest drag on the party’s re-election chances has to be rising hydro rates. That issue came front-and-centre in Napanee earlier on Monday when Hydro One held one of nine planned meetings to garner public feedback on a proposed gradual rate increase between 2018 and 2022. The proposed increase would mean another $2-3 on average, per month, over that time. Hydro One still needs to get Ontario Energy Board approval to apply the increase, and this series of public meetings is part of that process.

News of the rate increase went over as well as you might expect it would with those who attended the meeting: that is, not well. The fact that the Ontario government has taken steps to reduce people’s electricity bills starting next month — by effectively extending electricity system’s debt over a longer term — didn’t act as much of a balm either. It probably shouldn’t — while relief on hydro bills is sorely needed, the problem is still being kicked down the road, not eliminated.

It should also come as no surprise that some opposition politicians from around the region attended the meeting, including neighbouring MPP Todd Smith, the PC Energy Critic. And, predictably, he lambasted Ontario’s electricity regime and the governing Liberals for allowing this mess to occur. You can’t blame him: Ontario electricity customers are fed up with rising electricity prices, and they certainly need a break.

The lambasting is the easy part, of course. The opposition will understandably (and justifiably) use rising electricity prices as part of their election campaigns. But while it’s one thing to tee off on the sins of the Liberal government on the energy file, it will be another thing altogether to provide a workable plan to get us off the expensive road we’re on.

As we’ve said before, Ontario has an expensive electricity system, with a lot of built-in costs that can’t be dealt with the snap of the fingers. This is certainly not to let the Liberals off the hook for the current schmozzle we find ourselves in — it does mean, however, that when the time comes, voters should take a close look the solutions being proposed.

On that score, the opposition parties have their work cut out for them. It will not be an easy problem to solve — and Ontarians shouldn’t be under the impression that it will be.

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