By Allison Jones
It wasn’t until a Sept. 1 byelection loss that the government’s tune changed.
“We heard at the door that hydro rates are increasingly challenging for people,” Premier Kathleen Wynne said in a statement that night. “I understand, as do my ministers, that the government needs to focus on helping people with their everyday expenses.”
The inclusion of the eight-per-cent rebate in the government’s throne speech less than two weeks later suggests the plan was already well developed by Sept. 1. But the premier has acknowledged she should have acted sooner, a spokeswoman said.
“In saying that, we have been making changes to reduce costs in the electricity system over the past number of years,” Jenn Beaudry said in a statement.
Changes she cited that were enacted before that eight-per-cent rebate include removing the debt retirement charge, reducing feed-in-tariff prices, renegotiating a green energy deal with Samsung, deferring new nuclear construction and delaying the start of other nuclear refurbishment, all of which saves the system billions.
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While Wynne’s eight-per-cent rebate was welcomed – almost 90 per cent of respondents in October supported it – it didn’t resonate quite as widely as the government likely hoped. Still only 36 per cent said the government was doing a good job of controlling electricity prices.
“Of utmost importance to Ontarians for government’s attention is electricity costs,” the polling research said.
“And, evaluations of the government’s performance at controlling electricity prices are worsening. Those who report being more familiar with government’s recent eight-per-cent reduction of electricity prices are also more likely to evaluate the government poorly on this issue. Essentially, the solution is not proportionate to the perceived magnitude of the problem.”
Fast-forward to March 2017 and the premier announced a further 17-per-cent average reduction on bills, holding increases to the rate of inflation for four years, cuts to delivery charges for some rural customers, eliminating the delivery charge for on-reserve First Nations customers, expanding a low-income support program and establishing a new home energy efficiency improvement fund.
Angus Reid polling conducted after that announcement found that Wynne’s popularity continued to plummet to record lows, but 62 per cent of respondents said the reduction in hydro bills would be an important factor in deciding how they’ll vote in next year’s election.
The polling was conducted until October 2015 by Pollara, and from then on by the Gandalf Group.