Estimated cost of Ontario’s hydro subsidies jumps $1.6B
Jan. 31, 2020
The Progressive Conservative government’s electricity subsidies have surged by a staggering $1.6 billion in recent months.
Finance Minister Rod Phillips delivered that jolting fiscal news Thursday at Queen’s Park.
While the 2019-20 deficit remains unchanged at $9 billion, revenues have jumped by $3.1 billion since last April’s budget due to a strong housing market and rising personal incomes.
Those gains, however, are being short-circuited by the subsidies for electricity ratepayers that are now projected to be $5.6 billion a year.
That’s $1.6 billion more than the $4 billion that Tories had expected -- a 40 per cent change in one fiscal quarter.
“This is just to keep rates stable,” the treasurer said of the “troubling” increase.
Phillips said the blame lies with the previous Liberal governments of Dalton McGuinty and Kathleen Wynne, who were in power from 2003 until the Tories took office in 2018.
“This is the legacy of the failed Liberal plan that both removed transparency (and) ... caused instability,” the finance minister said. “It provided energy that people didn’t need at prices they couldn’t afford.”
That’s a reference to both the Grits’ green energy push and their “Fair Hydro Plan,” which lowered electricity rates by 25 per cent through subsidies kept off the province’s books using accounting changes criticized by the auditor general.
The Tories argued that transferring that expense to publicly owned Ontario Power Generation’s books just buried the actual cost of reducing electricity prices.
Last year, Premier Doug Ford scrapped the Liberals’ accounting and brought the cost back onto the books at Queen’s Park.
But the subsidies have ballooned, even though hydro rates have also continued to rise under Ford’s Tories.
Energy Minister Greg Rickford remains committed to keeping Ford’s 2018 election promise of reducing rates by an additional 12 per cent, despite those recent 1.8 per cent average increases.
NDP MPP Peter Tabuns (Toronto Danforth) said the soaring subsidies prove there is no way the Tories can keep their campaign pledge to lower rates.
“The fundamental problem is we had the Liberals who were not approaching the electricity system in a way that was financially or environmentally sustainable and we have the Conservatives going pretty much with the same playbook,” he said.
Tabuns also castigated the Tories for “wasting” hundreds of millions for cancelling green energy contracts.
“They’re wrong,” he said.
“This is not a business-like approach. This is not a sustainable approach. This is driving huge inflation in the electricity sector.”