By Ben Leeson, Sudbury Star (October 22 2016) – Sharon Chartrand never expected to have to choose between paying her hydro bill and other important living expenses, but the Greater Sudburian says that’s her reality due to rising electricity costs.
“I can’t afford my hydro anymore,” Chartrand said. “So we need to fight. We need to get our hydro back, so we can afford to live here in Ontario.”
Holding a sign that said “Help – I can’t pay my hydro bill,” Chartrand was one of several residents, union members and opposition politicians from across Northeastern Ontario who attended a rally at Downe Playground in Sudbury on Saturday before marching to the office of Sudbury MPP Glenn Thibeault, the Liberal energy minister, to protest utility costs and the privatization of Hydro One, which they believe will only drive prices higher.
“It’s excruciatingly financially devastating,” Chartrand said. “It takes my whole Canada Pension cheque. Our seniors are in great danger right now. It’s pushing our families to have to go to food banks on a regular basis. It’s just unfair. The rates are just unfair.”
France Gelinas, NDP MPP for Nickel Belt, spoke at the rally along with Algoma-Manitoulin counterpart Michael Mantha. Gelinas says she’s used to hearing stories like Chartrand’s.
“There’s not a day that goes by that I don’t have somebody reaching out to me who can’t make ends meet because of their hydro bill going sky high,” Gelinas said. “Whether it’s young families with children or people on fixed income, every day, people reach out. We try to help them as best we can with the rebates that exist, but a lot of them don’t qualify and they can’t make ends meet, but they’re able to put two and two together – they know that for 100 years, hydro was sold to them at cost and everybody could afford it, then privatization started creeping in and bills started going up. They see more privatization with the sale of Hydro One and they’re opposed to it, so I’m here to bring their voice forward, to say we are opposed to the sale of Hydro One, which will benefit a few shareholders at the expense of everybody who already can’t afford their hydro bill.”
Felicia Fahey, a member of the Citizens Coalition against Privatization and an organizer of Saturday’s rally, said Ontarians are getting “the raw end of the deal” when it comes to energy costs.
“That’s what often happens when you’ve got a majority government in, but this government in particular seems to be really hurting Ontario citizens,” Fahey said. “Hydro rates are going up and people are literally deciding between rent and food. I’ve never seen that before. We always grumble as a society about the cost of things and costs go up, but this is beyond ridiculous. It’s to the point that human rights are being violated, because people can’t get the essential things they require.
“We want this government to not just say that they’re listening to us, but to actually listen. We want them to implement plans immediately that aren’t just lip service and look good in an interview, but when you actually read the paperwork, have no impact on the community. We want the sale of hydro to stop and we want them to stop selling assets they have no right to sell.”
Kathleen Wynne’s government has touted the partial selloff of the utility as a means of funding much-needed infrastructure. But critics of the move, including both opposition parties, say the sale will cost the province in the long run and drive up hydro costs. According to a poll commissioned last year by the Keep Hydro Public Coalition, one of the groups represented on Saturday, some 83 per cent of Ontarians opposed the sale.
Gelinas hopes Thibeault, her collaborator during his time as an NDP MP, will take such results into account.
“He represents Northern Ontario, he has a duty to listen to 83 per cent of Ontarians and he has it within his power to ask his government to put a pause on this and look at other ways to achieve the goals they want to achieve, without selling Hydro One,” Gelinas said. “He is the minister of energy. He could say tomorrow morning, ‘I heard you, I respect the people of Ontario, I respect the people who elected me, and I will put a pause on this.’ ”
Thibeault did announce some relief for hydro customers last month, in a form of a rebate of the provincial portion of the HST on on electricity bills of residential, small business and farms as of Jan. 1, 2017, for an estimated average savings of $130 per year or $11 per month.
He announced additional relief for rural residents, amounting to an average yearly reduction of $540 per year or $45 per month, and reductions for business of up to 34 per cent through the expansion of the Industrial Conservation Initiative.
“We’re very pleased to say we’ve got the best system in North America and we’re now doing our best to make it affordable as possible,” Thibeault said at the time.
Many at Saturday’s rally felt the HST rebate did not go far enough. Among them was Daryl Taylor, president of CUPE Local 4705.
“It’s just a token gesture,” Taylor said. “The government has spent millions of dollars trying to promote things like the HST rebate, very small rebates, and it’s just not enough. It’s smoke and it’s mirrors. The bottom line is Hydro One belongs to the people, it was paid for by the people and it was built by the people, and Wynne and her government do not have the authority of the moral right to sell it off.”