THUNDER BAY -- The NDP Monday revealed a campaign pledge to lower hydro bills across the province, but the HST-slashing plan won’t amount to cash savings for homeowners for about two years.
New Democrat party leader Andrea Horwath held her second campaign stop in the city in as many days, announcing that if elected her party would remove the provincial portion of the HST from hydro bills starting in 2016.
“We have consistently been of the opinion that the HST does not belong on electricity bills, that people’s bills are going up constantly and we need to see some relief for families,” she said.
The initiative, which Horwath says will save the average Ontario family about $120 per year, was also announced during the 2011 campaign.
Horwath held the Monday morning announcement in the living room of Northwood resident and NDP supporter Jeff Caldwell.
Caldwell, 54, is the father to two teenage sons and says the recent harsh winter has resulted in hefty bi-monthly bills where the tax hit is felt.
“The most recent bill I got was $135 and $17 of that is HST. Prior to that the previous bill was $150,” he said.
Prior to the HST being added in 2010, Caldwell said he was paying in the vicinity of $100 per bill.
Thunder Bay-Atikokan NDP candidate Mary Kozorys said many of the people she has encountered in the early stages of the campaign have been vocal about how the cost of energy can be brought down.
“I think it’s a very practical approach. One of the first steps we can implement is taking the HST off hydro bills,” Kozorys said. “This is what I’m hearing every day on the doorstep, how can government make life more affordable.”
Taking the eight per cent tax off the bills is just a starting point in the party’s plan to bring down electricity bills the NDP claim are among the highest in Canada. The Liberal government has admitted ratepayers will see an increase of 33 per cent in the next three years.
Horwath acknowledged there is a lot more work and measures required to lower hydro rates across the province. She said the party is committed to consolidating agencies, capping executive salaries, ensuring exported energy is not subsidized and ordering a review of private power contracts by the Auditor General.
“It’s a start to get the bills down a bit. We’d like to make some efforts to try to get the rates under control themselves. We don’t believe it’s inevitable for those rates to go up 42 per cent so we’ve unveiled a plan to get those rates under control,” Horwath said.
“I think we’re the only party bringing forth a number of new ideas on how we get those electricity rates under control here in Ontario.”
Horwath took issue with the Liberals’ Green Energy Act, saying the legislation was “fumbled seriously” when it was enacted and that it puts neighbouring communities in direct competition with one another.
However, she said she did not agree with tearing up existing contracts and subsidies. She explicitly ruled out building any new nuclear power plants.
Earlier Monday, Progressive Conservative Leader Tim Hudak announced a portion of his party’s energy platform to stabilize electricity rates.
Hudak proposes removing subsidies for wind and solar power and instead replacing them with investments in nuclear, natural gas and hydro power. It also intends to make it easier for Ontario to import energy from neighbouring provinces and the United States.
When asked about the possibility of a leaders’ debate being held in the city, Horwath answered she is not aware of a date being set at this point. She did say she was unsure if her team had made any proactive efforts to set up such a forum.
More than two weeks ago before the election was called, Premier Kathleen Wynne issued a challenge to Horwath and Hudak to hold a northern leaders’ debate.
“We’re happy to take on those debates at any time,” Horwath said.
Horwath and Hudak staged a debate in Thunder Bay during the last provincial election, with then-Liberal leader Dalton McGuinty absent.
The NDP leader is scheduled to make another announcement Monday afternoon in Sudbury.