Fair Hydro Plan ‘smokescreen’ steams Auditor General; Bill 148 passes second reading

Last Week at Queen’s Park (Oct. 20)

by MPP Jim McDonell

The Auditor General delivered a scathing report on the government’s management of the so-called Fair Hydro Plan. As the independent officer pointed out earlier, the plan simply borrows billions of dollars to buy a temporary 25% cut in electricity rates until after the next election and will cost ratepayers over $45-billion extra, to be paid back over the next 32 years.  This week’s report condemns the government for not following standard accounting practices as they attempt to conceal the debt from their balance sheet.  The most explosive conclusion in the report, however, is that $4-billion of these extra costs could have been avoided entirely if the government had accounted for the scheme properly and placed the debt on the public books, as they should have. Instead, by creating a legal smokescreen around the Fair Hydro Plan debt the government can make repeated claims about balanced budgets despite racking up debt.

It is time this stopped. Balance means balance; debt means debt and waste is waste.

Furthermore, the Auditor General stated that the government, like its predecessor in the gas plants scandal, has not been forthcoming in fulfilling requests to release departmental e-mails regarding the Fair Hydro Plan. Not only have the Ministry of Energy not met a May 31st deadline, they still have only released approximately 1% of the requested emails. In addition, the government has hired an outside consultant to screen through the emails for a $500,000 retainer fee.  Either this government has not learned that documents can’t be withheld forever, or they have learned their lesson too well. Only time will tell, and the Official Opposition will continue supporting the Auditor General in her investigative work to ensure Ontarians are told the truth.

During the week, the government passed Bill 148 in Second Reading and sent it back to Finance Committee for further review. With more and more stakeholders, including municipalities making their concerns known, the government should come back to the table with the amendments necessary to ensure Ontarians and businesses are not harmed by well-intentioned legislation. Municipal ratepayers can’t afford 25% and above increases to their property tax bills, yet this is how Bill 148 might impact them just through the new provisions regarding volunteer firefighters’ stand-by pay.

Bill 166 came for debate for the first time this week. It implements several important reforms to new home warranties, especially by splitting the builder regulator from the warranty provider. Unfortunately, the bill does not include the creation of a competitive marketplace where new home warranties can be provided like any other insurance product, a key recommendation from the Cunningham review. This is a missed opportunity, but any reform of TARION is better than the status quo.

This week we will continue discussing Bill 166 and health care practitioners’ disclosure legislation.

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