WINDSOR — Monday morning saw the Liberal government and Premier Kathleen Wynne put their best foot forward at the Association of Municipalities of Ontario's annual general meeting. But the afternoon was devoted to the opposition parties at Queen's Park, who made the province's energy policies the focus of their criticism of the Liberal record.
“Let's admit it: soaring hydro bills and the choice to sell off Hydro One are the centrepiece of this government's failure, and will be the legacy of this premier,” said New Democrat Leader Andrea Horwath.
Horwath and Progressive Conservative Leader Patrick Brown both opposed the sale of Hydro One. Brown continues to call it a “fire sale” intended to balance the provincial budget in the short term before the 2018 election. Their words have an impact at AMO's annual general meeting, where many member municipalities also vocally opposed the sale.
The New Democrats reiterated their promise to remove the HST from home electricity bills if they form the next government in 2018, which they estimated would cost approximately $800 million a year.
When they made a similar pledge in 2011 to remove the HST from the cost of home heating fuels, Liberal critics said the biggest beneficiaries would be the most wasteful consumers of natural gas.
Asked about the possibility that such a cut to electricity would encourage wasteful use and benefit most those who can most afford it, Horwath said Ontario families need relief in the short term while the government works out more fundamental changes to the electricity sector.
Brown, for his part, reiterated the Progressive Conservative position that high energy prices are “kneecapping” the province's economy, forcing high costs on businesses that can find lower energy prices in other provinces or in the United States. He also said “unwilling host” municipalities that have formally signalled their opposition to wind power projects shouldn't have them forced into their jurisdictions by the province.
Neither leader leapt to embrace the subject of the morning: whether new taxes should be made available to municipalities to fund infrastructure spending.
“I'm not looking at new taxes,” said Brown. “I would love to see infrastructure spending that's accountable within our mandates... I'm not looking at new taxes to do that, but I will make a commitment to municipalities that we will properly fund infrastructure.”
Brown said the provincial government should instead take more of the burden off municipalities, including policing costs.
Horwath, not unlike Wynne, said she would wait for AMO members to come to a consensus on what kind of new taxes they wanted to see before making any new promises.
The meeting concludes Tuesday.
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