This Week in Queen’s Park
By Jim McDonell
It has been an intense week at Queen’s Park. The House debated the government’s Speech from the Throne. The priorities included reforming Hydro One governance to increase accountability, cancelling many wind and solar projects that would have contributed to increasing Ontarians’ energy prices, ending the strike at York University and reforming many aspects of our children’s education, including abandoning the failed mathematics instruction methods that saw our students’ math performance scores plummet.
The government wasted no time in delivering action to implement those commitments that required legislation. Bill 2, the Urgent Priorities Act, was introduced and began its debate this week. It orders striking York University staff back to work, cancels the White Pines power project which had received approval during the Writ period when the government was only supposed to act as caretaker, and reins in Hydro One’s powers to set its own compensation and severance policies.
Ontarians were shocked to learn that earlier in 2018, in secret, the Board of Hydro One had approved massive severance packages for the CEO and its own members that totaled tens of millions of dollars. The previous government sent mixed signals on oversight, first reassuring Ontarians that there would be public oversight of the privatized utility and then, when push came to shove, throwing their hands up and saying they had no power. This stops with Bill 2. Compensation, severance and other perks for Hydro One board members and executives will have to comply with guidelines and caps set by the government and any changes will require Cabinet approval. Ontario is still Hydro One’s largest shareholder and we must ensure our authority is used in the public interest.
The cancellation of the cap-and-trade scheme continues to reverberate as programs funded out of the Green Ontario Fund are wound down and the corresponding costs are removed from consumers’ bills. Natural gas customers can expect to see $7 per month reductions in their bills as a direct consequence of our action, and gas prices will no longer carry the approximately 4.9 cents per litre tax that cap-and-trade imposed on motorists. An average Ontario family will save $285 per year on gasoline once the remnants of the cap-and-trade program are dismantled. If any program funded out of the Green Ontario Fund was worthy of being continued, such decisions will be taken strictly on a case-by-case basis.
A Commission of Inquiry and a team of auditors will soon begin investigating the previous government’s spending practices and waste. The Commission will determine what went wrong so Ontarians can finally know the truth. The line-by-line audit, on the other hand, will deliver clear and measurable solutions to the problems left behind by 15 years of misrule.
In the Throne Speech, the government acknowledged that we will face significant challenges on the road to making Ontario competitive, attractive and affordable. “The road ahead will not be easy, but the path is clear”, said the Lieutenant-Governor. I will continue working with and for the residents of Stormont-Dundas-South Glengarry to ensure our policies reflect the respect for taxpayers and their money that we longed for.