Every now and again, I find myself frustrated that politicians either don’t know or will not responsibly exercise the powers granted them under our constitution. If they don’t understand their constitutional responsibility and authority, they should not be in government. If they do, and won’t exercise it in a reasonable fashion, the same applies. In the interest of fairness, I live in part of the City of Ottawa that has it’s hydro needs met by Ontario Hydro/Hydro One. We pay substantially higher rates than those residents who are serviced by Hydro Ottawa.
The problem arises with the 1998 decision of the Mike Harris Progressive Conservative government to amalgamate 12 different municipalities into the new City of Ottawa (one of them being the old City of Ottawa) effective January 1, 2001. The same stroke of legislative intent that established the new city, could have dealt with the hydro issue. The fact that successive provincial governments have failed to advance a Queen’s Park solution is almost as ridiculous as the out of control spending that has resulted in the bizarre out-of-control situation where the solution to an over-bureaucratized energy system has been a new level of bureaucracy to assess and process rebates for customers who cannot afford to pay their hydro bills. All this while Ontario produced hydroelectricity is sold for less outside the province than within.
This week, the Ottawa Citizen ran a story headlined, “Wynne to prorogue Ontario legislature, deliver throne speech Monday.” The Premier is pressing the restart button and giving the legislature a long weekend break before introducing a new direction for the next half of her mandate, partly based on recognition of the hydro crisis that has magnified during her government’s tenure (aging infrastructure, cancelled new gas plants with substantial penalty costs, huge salaries then huge payouts to terminated CEOs, etc.). Yesterday, I sent off a timely letter to the editor but it might not make the Ottawa Citizen’s print run, so here it is. If you agree with it, feel free to circulate this blog widely; and, particularly to Ottawa’s municipal politicians and elected members of the provincial parliament at Queen’s Park.
On Wednesday, Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne declared rising hydro bills to be an “urgent issue” for her government. The Premier says she heard the message from the electorate in Scarborough-Rouge River, where a ‘safe’ Liberal seat – one they had never lost from the time of its creation – went to her political opponents a week earlier.
More than half a million customer accounts – 567,000 – were in arrears province-wide at the end of 2015, according to the Ontario Energy Board. It’s difficult to imagine how bad it was going to have to get before the government of nearly 14 years took notice if Patrick Brown’s Progressive Conservative Party had not won the Scarborough by-election.
While the government wrings its hands at electricity rates established by the Ontario Energy Board, it’s worth noting that the OEB was established by the provincial government in 1998. The cries of OEB independence ring somewhat hollow when one considers that the successive Liberal governments of Dalton McGuinty and Kathleen Wynne have amended the legislation that created the OEB more than 40 times since 2003, nine times since Ms. Wynne became Premier in February 2013.
Even if the OEB Act had not been amended, the OEB was established under the legislative authority of the Province of Ontario under the Constitution Act, 1867; reports to Ontario’s Minister of Energy; and, remains subject to the legislative authority of Queen’s Park. Yes, the government can do something about hydro rates, besides announcing increases.
For those of us who have endured the drama of City of Ottawa announcements that it is simply too costly and impractical to move those higher rate paying Ottawa residents who are serviced by Ontario Hydro into the fold of Hydro Ottawa, please note the following. Amalgamation under the City of Ottawa Act took place in 2001 as the result of what was then considered a costly and impractical decision of the Government of Ontario. But, the decision was within the jurisdiction of Queen’s Park under the Constitution Act, 1867. The Ontario Energy Board was established under the same authority, as were Ontario Hydro and Hydro Ottawa. In fact, to equalize the hydro situation for all Ottawa residents would require a few lines in legislation passed at Queen’s Park.
It’s been a while coming, but now electricity rates are an urgent issue for the Wynne Government. On Thursday, the Premier prorogued the legislature so that she can introduce a new direction for her government on Monday.
Here’s a simple suggestion for Monday’s throne speech. There is no need to engage in endless negotiation to deal with high hydro rates for Hydro One customers in Ottawa or elsewhere in the province. There is no need to establish a new bureaucracy to assess income based subsidies. There is no need for anything except a simple act of the provincial legislature to reign in the hydro fiasco. If Ms. Wynne isn’t listening, then perhaps we should start speaking with Mr. Brown.