TORONTO - Ontario's opposition parties promised help for consumers Monday to deal with soaring electricity bills, which they blamed on the Liberals' energy policies, as the campaign for the June 12 election entered its second week.
The Liberals are particularly vulnerable on the energy file after cancelling two gas plants prior to the last election in 2011 at a cost to taxpayers of up to $1.1 billion, and with a planned 33 per cent hike in electricity bills over the next three years.
The Progressive Conservatives targeted generous subsidies under the Liberals' Green Energy Act in their pledge to keep electricity rate hikes lower than forecast.
"We need to end these expensive subsidies for the wind and solar projects that are driving our rates higher and higher still," said Progressive Conservative Leader Tim Hudak. "It doesn't make any sense to add more expensive power we don't need."
Visiting a factory in Smithville, in his own riding in the Niagara Peninsula, Hudak also promised to reduce the number of government electricity agencies, and said he'd cut the "bloated" bureaucracy at Hydro One and Ontario Power Generation to help get electricity rates low enough to generate 40,000 new jobs.
"We need to pare down that massive hydro bureaucracy," he said. "They have 11,000 people in the hydro bureaucracy making $100,000 a year, can you believe that?"
Campaigning in Thunder Bay, New Democrat Leader Andrea Horwath said she too would merge some of the electricity agencies and would want to eliminate "waste in the bureaucracy," but that's where she parted company with the Tories.
"People are shocked when they open their electricity bills," said Horwath as she promised to lift the provincial portion of HST off hydro bills if she becomes premier. That would save homeowners about $120 a year.
"Instead of making life affordable, the Liberals decided to add an unfair tax on top of the highest electricity rates in the country," she said. "We're going to take it off and make life affordable for families."
Premier Kathleen Wynne said electricity rates went up mainly because the government had to invest billions of dollars to repair and upgrade the electricity system after years of neglect, and defended the Liberals' Green Energy Act.
"Are we going to back away from clean, renewable energy," Wynne asked herself at a campaign stop in Vaughan, north of Toronto. "No, we're not going to do that."
At a later stop at Mohawk College in Stoney Creek, Wynne warned Hudak's pledge to slash tens of thousands of public sector jobs would hurt Ontario's fragile economic recovery.
"One-hundred-thousand jobs cut means that families lose a breadwinner, that communities lose people who are able to pay taxes and spend," she said. "That's the reality and the frightening prospect of the Hudak PCs."
Wynne began her day on the radio, defending the decisions to cancel planned gas plants in Oakville and Mississauga, which the opposition parties called an expensive Liberal seat saver program.
"A billion dollars in the gas plants scandal to save a couple Liberal seats and you folks got stuck with the bill," said Hudak.
"And the NDP, they're really just the great pretenders. They say they care about hydro rates but they voted with the Liberals each and every time."
Horwath said Hudak's plans to cut public sector jobs "doesn't make any sense," and lashed out at the Liberals for the "bloated" electricity agencies that she said need to be pared down and for wasting over $1 billion to cancel the two gas plants.
"The bottom line is all of those things are being paid for on your bills," she said.
Hudak defended his plan to cut public sector jobs to help eliminate the $12.5-billion deficit in two years, a year faster than the Liberals, and said he's giving people the "hard talk and the plain truth" while the others make promises Ontario can't afford.
"If this were a popularity contest, you'd promise everything under the sun to all people," he said. "I'm actually proposing some pretty tough choices, but I think we owe it to Ontarians to be honest with them about the mess that we're in."
— With files from Maria Babbage, Diana Mehta and Colin Perkel.
Follow @CPnewsboy on Twitter
© Coast Reporter