If we may paraphrase King Pyrrhus, a few more acts of “fairness” like the one Premier Kathleen Wynne offered the people of Ontario this week and the province will be undone.
Responding to widespread public anger — and, dare we suggest, plummeting poll numbers? — the premier announced that hydro bills would soon be down by 25 per cent. This includes eight per cent from the previously announced removal of the provincial share of the HST from bills, at an annual cost of $1 billion to the provincial coffers. The remaining 17 per cent, Wynne explained, would largely come from Ontario pushing existing costs out to the future. Long-term contracts for power generation from nuclear and “green” energy providers will now be paid out over 30 years, not 20.
This comes at the price, literally, of paying considerably more for hydro over longer. The added interest costs will ultimately amount, it is estimated, to a whopping $25 billion dollars, a figure that’s large even by the formidable standard set by previous Ontario Liberal catastrophes. A further $2.5 billion will simply be paid out, over three years, from the province’s general revenues — a robbing of the proverbial Peter to pay the provincial Paul.
Wynne defends Ontario hydro rate cut that will… 1:37
The premier described these steps, as well as some further tweaks and offsets for vulnerable ratepayers, as fair. Indeed, “fair” was very much her word of the day — it was even written on the little placard that adorned her podium when she made the announcement. “Over time, it will cost a bit more. And it will take longer to pay off. But it is fairer — because it doesn’t ask this generation of hydro customers alone to pay the freight for everyone before and after.”
It feels almost redundant, at this point, to note that the premier and her Ontario Liberal party have an increasingly casual relationship with the truth, particularly when it comes to energy policy. Still, there is nothing “fair” in Thursday’s announcement. It is, in fact, objectively the opposite. Future generations of Ontarians will now be tasked not only with paying off the tab of the Liberals’ spending-orgy of the last 14 years, which has seen the province pile on an astonishing $173 billion in debt. Children today and those not yet born will now be made to assume responsibility for energy infrastructure and generation capacity that, as they pay for it, will likely require major refurbishment or outright replacement a decade before it’s paid off. Future Ontarians will be forced to finance new, needed infrastructure projects while still paying off old ones thanks to Wynne’s latest scheme. And that’s before we even tally up the money diverted from other urgent priorities to cover the increased interest costs, the loss of HST revenue and the outright subsidies from general revenues that also make up this “fair” plan.
Nathan Denette / The Canadian Press
Nathan Denette / The Canadian PressThe government of Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne needs to get control of wages and compensation for provincial civil servants as they account for half of the government’s budget, write Charles Lammam and Ben Eisen.
If only we could beam the premier 30 years into the future, so she can explain to the burdened Ontarians of the 2040s how “fair” her plan is for them.
This ruse is, at least, transparent in its motives. As ever, the provincial Liberals have decided that their own sagging political fortunes need boosting, and the best way to do that is through the liberal (can that even be called a pun anymore?) spending of public money. Lowering monthly utility bills is smart retail politics. As is their microscopic loosening of provincial alcohol sales: a born-free Ontarian is now able to buy some brands of beer at a few grocery stores, between certain hours and using specific checkout aisles. Ditto the premier’s recent decision to quash Toronto Mayor John Tory’s request for road tolls to finance new transit projects, and the just-announced public consultation towards cracking down on the practice of people selling a concert ticket they lawfully possess for whatever markup the market will bear. The Liberals are clearly aware of their grim electoral prospects and are trying to make nice again with infuriated voters in time for the 2018 election.
It might work. It has before. But let’s at least be clear in our language. Nothing about this hydro remortgaging is fair. This is tantamount to an abuse of power. A government that has veered from one fiscal disaster to another is essentially bailing itself out, a year before an election, using public money. It’s very premise is bribing away the anger of today’s voters with money stolen from future taxpayers. It might be shrewd politics, but it’s not fair.
Here’s what it most certainly is: An admission of failure, and a gesture of helplessness. It is offensive to the taxpayers and overtly harmful to the current and future interests of the province of Ontario. It is, in other words, an entirely accurate reflection of this Liberal government’s record.
National Post by Post Staff
March 3rd 2017