By MPP Toby Barrett
Former Norfolk Power customers just received their first Hydro One bill since the sale of the local utility. These initial bills have up to an additional 17 days of consumption included. This is allegedly to provide billing closer to the time customers use electricity.
As people bring their electricity bill into my office, along with their new and independent water bills – we see some bills double what they were with Norfolk Power. And when you do the math removing the additional 17 days, the monthly expense appears to remain higher. As constituents asked, “How can I afford this?”
When families are having a tough time paying for 30 days of power, it’s a no-brainer charging 47 days on one bill is impossible for some. Given the scrutiny Hydro One’s billing practices have been under its public relations team should have come to the conclusion that dividing those additional 17 days over several months could ease the hit.
Apart from Hydro One’s billing glitches, ever-increasing electricity bills are zapping the life out of homeowners, farmers and businesses. Rising electricity rates also hinder Ontario’s ability to compete with other jurisdictions. Hydro hikes are killing jobs and forcing businesses to close or flee south where rates are affordable.
Ontario has the highest electricity rates in North America – rates that are expected to continue to rise by 42 per cent between now and 2018.
Patrick Brown and the Official Opposition do not support Premier Wynne’s decision to sell Hydro One. We understand the struggles Ontario families face – families who never gave this government a mandate to give up control of a Crown asset owned by all of us. My colleagues and I know the cost of living is already too high and we should be looking for ways to help families – not making essential services more expensive.
Ontarians want assurance Wynne’s fire sale of Hydro One will not jack up the expense of electricity even further. To date there’s been no such assurance, sending a strong signal government has forgotten the very people it serves. Constituents have seen their bills triple since this government came to office in 2003.
The Ontario Chamber of Commerce has also waded in on the issue, saying the Wynne government is not engaged with the business community by not addressing the fears of whether or not the sale of Hydro One will increase their costs.
There is another problem. Customers will no longer have the independent oversight and complaints process that protects them from over-billing. Former Ontario Ombudsman Andre Marin wrote a number of scathing reports on the horror stories his office received from Hydro One customers. Marin recently said his office had never received so many complaints about a single government organization – complaints ringing in at about 27,000 last year. Perhaps Mr. Marin did his job a little too well when it came to the file as the Premier decided not to extend his contract.
Who will be watching out for hydro customers now? The answer is nobody.
The issue of electricity prices is not going away any time soon. The Official Opposition continues to hammer the government on this fire sale, and the list of municipalities passing motions opposing the sell-off continues to grow.