Energy bills: darned if you do, darned if you don’t

It is not so surprising that the two parties that are most likely to form the next government in Ontario have at some point tried to offload hydro onto the private sector. When it comes to political albatrosses, the energy portfolio has been the gift that just keeps on giving (bad polls).

The conundrum of electricity bills began long before the Progressive Conservative governments of the Harris-Eves era—with massive cost overruns on nuclear power plants, but no partisan house has been free of taint from the electricity file since, with successive governments freezing rates (and piling on debt) in their turn.

At the risk of waving a red flag in a decidedly charged debate, it should be noted that the McGuinty Liberals do deserve some credit for finally taking the bull by the horns and upgrading the grid and supply infrastructure, but the cost of dealing with decades of neglect has been enormous and Premier Wynne, to her own credit, has not backed away from accepting responsibility for the mistakes made by her own government—although she has been quite willing to share the blame as well.

Perhaps it was to be anticipated that both opposition parties would quickly heap scorn upon the plan announced by the premier, whatever it might be. It seems to be de rigor these days for opposition parties to oppose any government’s proposal or stance without providing any alternative or competing proposal.

The Progressive Conservatives, who have made critique of the energy file their cause celebre for the past couple of years, blithely chirp about the energy file using language that seems to suggest that the Liberal government, and Ms. Wynne herself, are profiting handsomely from Hydro One, even while knowing that this is anything but the case and ignoring their own party’s role in creating the current debacle.

The NDP have put forward a claim that they would reduce hydro bills by 30 percent, issuing the proposed largesse for ratepayers with suspiciously convenient timing and little detail on how such a wonder would be accomplished. In an even greater stretch of credulity, the NDP propose to accomplish the rate reduction even as they buy back that portion of Hydro One that has been sold—and the cherry on top is the suggestion that a fully public Hydro One would pour golden eggs into the provincial treasury even as electricity rates are slashed. Truly, the NDP have access to the Hogwart staff’s entire inventory of magical wands.

Politics has ever been the realm of alternative facts, if not outright fiction—although the spin of yesteryear did seem to fly a bit closer to the wind than the current breezes emanating from partisan communication offices.

Both parties seem to be counting on the electorate remaining oblivious to their promises following their success in the next election. But history has proven, time and again, that the Gordian knot of Ontario’s electricity system will require a very sharp knife indeed—no matter who is in charge, and the temptation to put off for another day what needed to be done yesterday will remain irresistible to the party of the day.

In finding a way to reduce rates, Premier Wynne has made a credible case for her plan and communicated it in a manner that ordinary Ontarians can understand.

In the meantime, while Premier Wynne appears to have found a viable solution to escalating electricity bills the question remains, will she gain much in the way of political capital from keeping her promise to find a way forward for those struggling with high energy bills? If history is any guide the answer is probably not.

Despite the hurricane of approbation currently swirling around her, Premier Wynne deserves credit for her courage and innovation in dealing with a file that has confounded her predecessors stretching all the way back to the days of the Big Blue Machine. Bravo, Ms. Wynne.