In politics pre-election deathbed conversions are common among political leaders who are hoping to reclaim the freshness that first swept them into office years before.
Premier Dalton McGuinty has instead chosen to use some of his government’s last gasps of air, in its dying days, before October’s general election to once again stick it to rural Ontario residents.
PC leader Tim Hudak recognized the firestorm of opposition to McGuinty’s Green Energy Act and massive subsidies to industrial wind developers, and pledged should he become premier he will cancel the feed-in-tariff program that is spiking Ontario’s electricity bills and replace it with competitive pricing for renewable energy projects in the future.
Polling has shown a majority of Ontarians agree with Hudak and support scrapping these expensive energy contracts to keep electricity rates lower. Hudak’s pledge to end Ontario’s feed-in-tariff program always held one caveat. He would honour existing contracts that had received “notice to proceed” from the Ontario Power Authority.
Until Aug. 2, that was an easy promise to make as more than 97% of feed-in-tariff contracts had not reached this stage, and likely would not before the election.
Ontario Energy Minister Brad Duguid, however, has decided to re-write the rules hoping to make it impossible for Hudak to cancel more than 1,800 of these unaffordable contracts if he’s elected this fall, by giving the Ontario Power Authority the ability to exempt wind developers from rules, if they jump through a number easier hoops instead.
Like many of the Ontario Liberal promises to the wind industry and claims about the benefits of their management of this so-called green initiative, the facts just don’t support the hype.
Instead, this announcement highlights how poorly served Ontario’s energy and environment needs have been met by amateur ministers with no professional qualifications or experiences relating to their respective ministries.
The legal agreements signed by the Ontario Power Authority and feed-in-tariff recipients are unchanged and the exemptions are not automatic.
The sweetheart deal the Ontario Liberals are offering wind developers is based on a minister’s directive to the Ontario Power Authority that the next minister can simply rescind with no risk of legal action against the government.
Canada’s courts, through a variety of case laws, have always recognized a government’s inability to bind a future government from making policy decisions through contract law. What Duguid did won’t alter the contracts at all, and is something the next minister can and should tear up.
Perhaps the worst news for the wind industry and the Ontario Liberals to come out of this is the deadlines Duguid has given developers to submit various forms, as each falls between one and eight weeks after the election. This will simply strengthen the resolve of industrial wind opponents to campaign against Liberal candidates to defeat this government.
A new government will be pressured to tear up this unenforceable directive that would cost Ontarians billions through our hydro bills.
This announcement has given citizens insight into how a third McGuinty Liberal mandate would operate and who it would serve. It is clear, a reelected Liberal government would continue to gut the rules and hand up rural communities on a platter to special interest groups that want to tear them apart and profit from their misfortune.
Duguid has upped the ante, placing even more importance for voters who are feeling the pinch each month when they pay their hydro bills, for citizens who live near proposed wind turbines from Thunder Bay to the outskirts of Ottawa, from the Bruce Peninsula, to Essex County and all parts in between.
The first step is to ensure this government isn’t re-elected, but equally important will be ensuring that, should Hudak become premier, he keeps his promise and does what’s in rural Ontario’s best interests.
In our cynical society, it is often difficult to take politicians at their word, but this is sadly our only option during the election. Making them stick to their word is the job voters must take off immediately after an election to keep special interest groups from changing the minds of our leaders once elected.
Being proactive and involving yourself in the campaign, attending all-candidates meetings, rallies and other events are all good opportunities to get candidates on the record where they stand on putting in place a moratorium on industrial wind development until independent science determines safe setbacks from turbines, ensuring local democracy is restored to planning decisions in rural communities, ending the feed-in-tariff program, rescinding Duguid’s latest directive and cancelling the Samsung deal.
The McGuinty Liberals’ eight year mismanagement of the electricity file has proven to be a costly, divisive and ineffective experience that has torn apart far too many rural communities and cost Ontario families too much of their hard-earned money to keep the lights on.
It is critical Ontario’s next premier hears from citizens that blaming the previous occupant of the office won’t be good enough and that residents demand action.
After election day, citizens must continue keeping the government’s feet to the fire and demanding results on the pledges they made during the election. That is the only way rural Ontario’s economy will recover from the waste and mismanagement McGuinty has brought to the province’s energy mix.
John Laforet is president of Wind Concerns Ontario.
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