Liberal throne speech expected to propose some relief from high hydro rates

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By Keith Leslie, The Canadian Press

Toronto: The Liberal government’s plan to offer some relief from soaring electricity rates is expected to be a focal point of today’s throne speech opening the fall session of the Ontario legislature.

Premier Kathleen Wynne says she heard from consumers, businesses and municipal leaders across the province this summer that ever-increasing hydro bills are making life unaffordable for some families and are driving companies out of Ontario.

Wynne suddenly prorogued the legislature last week, saying the government wants to reset its priorities halfway through its mandate, with the next election less than two years away, and signalled the throne speech would address electricity rates.

Finance Minister Charles Sousa said Friday that the Liberals understand they “need to mitigate the cost of electricity for everyday Ontarians.”

Sousa said hydro rates increased because Ontario stopped burning coal to generate power and because the Liberals invested heavily in transmission grid upgrades after years of neglect.

The Progressive Conservatives say electricity rates were driven up much higher than necessary by the Liberals’ overly-generous, long-term contracts for wind and solar power, while the Green Party blames expensive refurbishments of nuclear generating stations for adding to skyrocketing hydro bills.

The opposition parties want the government to immediately halt any more sales of shares in Hydro One, the transmission utility, warning privatization will mean even higher electricity rates.

But the Liberals say it’s the Ontario Energy Board, not Hydro One, that sets the rates and insist selling 60 per cent of the utility will lead to a more efficient company, not higher prices for consumers.

The Conservatives begin the new session on a high note with the swearing-in today of their newest member of the legislature, Raymond Cho, who took the Scarborough-Rouge River riding from the Liberals in a Sept. 1 byelection, giving the Tories a much-sought after seat in Toronto.

NDP Leader Andrea Horwath said she’ll hold the government to account on health care, hydro costs and jobs.

“We need a legislative session that focuses on the priorities of Ontario families not on what’s best for the Liberals or what’s best for the most powerful Ontarians,” Horwath said Friday. “If that’s not what happens, it will be a clear indication that this throne speech is more about the Liberals trying to change the channel than it is about Ontario’s future.”

The title of the thone speech will be ‘A Balanced Plan to Build Ontario Up for Everyone.’

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