June 5, 2014

On June 12th, Ontarians will head to the polls to elect their 26th government. While environmental issues have largely been absent from major party platforms, energy has been central to campaign discussions– with particular attention paid to past decisions made by the Liberal government under the Green Energy Act (GEA). Opposition parties have criticised the Liberal Party for falling short on their commitment of creating 50,000 jobs and that subsidies for renewable energy production have dramatically increase residential electricity bills.  Environmental considerations are thus present in the election, however they are simply embedded in other issues.

While “Clean, Reliable and Affordable Energy for Ontarians” was a core priority of Ontario’s 2014 Budget which was tabled and defeated on May 1st, the recently released Ontario Liberal Party Platform does not focus as much attention on the clean energy element of the equation. Instead, the Platform concentrates on affordable electricity rates, with a pledge to remove the Debt Retirement Charge from residential electricity bills after December 31, 2015. The NDP has echoed this commitment and has also pledged to take HST off home hydro bills claiming this will result in an annual household savings of $120. Contentious issues raised by opposition parties include subsidies for renewable energy generation and the cancellation of two gas plants prior to the 2011 election under the Liberals. A 2013 report by the Office of the Auditor General of Ontario estimated costs associated with the decision to cancel the Mississauga power plant and relocated it at $275 million.

The Progressive Conservatives have pledged to end existing renewables subsidies and have said if elected they would not award any more contracts to wind and solar producers. The PCs consider the GEA as a main driver of rising residential electricity rates in the Province.  They have proposed the energy supply mix of the province be made up of natural gas, nuclear and imported hydroelectricity from Manitoba and Québec. However, absent from the Party’s platform are investments in infrastructure or supply side management approaches, needed to address the issues of energy efficiency and conservation. So far, the NDP has been the only party to propose loans for homeowners to invest in energy efficient retrofits.

Both the PCs and the NDP have focused on the province’s energy bureaucracy as an opportunity to reduce hydro rates. The PCs have cited the example of reducing costs at Ontario Power Generation (OPG) and Hydro One as part of their plan to reduce the deficit by eliminating 100,000 public sector jobs. The NDP on the other hand has committed to introducing a salary cap for energy CEOs and merging IESO, OPG, Hydro One and the Ontario Power Authority into one entity in a move to reduce the cost of hydro.

With the different visions for Ontario’s energy future presented in each Party’s platform, Ontarians will need to  ask themselves fundamental questions around how the province should go about meeting and satisfying its own energy demand. The answers to these questions will also have a significant influence on corresponding environmental issues now and into the future for Ontario.

By Rachel Ward, rward@delphi.ca