LITTLE CURRENT—It was definitely a conservative-friendly crowd that gathered Monday, July 18 at the West Pavilion on the Little Current waterfront for a 1 pm town hall meeting.
Nipissing MPP and Ontario Progressive Conservative (PC) finance critic Vic Fedeli was joined by Simcoe-Grey MPP and PC house leader Jim Wilson at the event hosted by the Algoma-Manitoulin PC Riding association.
The visiting opposition MPPs were introduced by local PC riding association director and NEMI Ratepayers’ Association Chair Mark Volpini before settling into business.
The event was billed as being focussed on Ontario finances, Hydro One and issues of community interest and was part of the grassroots policy development process currently underway under the new Ontario PC leader Patrick Brown.
“Patrick Brown has visited Northern Ontario 18 times, that’s 18 times,” emphasized Mr. Fedeli. “That is such a huge signal, we have, you have, voices in Queen’s Park.”
“This rivals Wasaga Beach,” said Mr. Wilson, complimenting Manitoulin with a reference to a resort area in his own riding. “Vic and I are here as part of a policy process, our leader has made it clear that he does not want this to be a top down process.”
The duo made it clear that they intended the gathering to be a fact finding and research effort, not a partisan event, but taking the partisan out of the politician (or their supporters) proved nonetheless to be a challenge and many of the conversations did contain politically-charged assertions and commentary.
The first question out of the gate came as no surprise to the visiting politicians, focussing on electricity rates, but the speaker who was identified as Raymond put forward the hypothesis that the rates were linked to the province’s revenue needs. “Every time the police or the teachers get a raise, our taxes go up.”
“The quick answer is no,” responded Mr. Fedeli, who pointed out that the monies raised by Hydro One remain in the Hydro One file and are not directly linked to government revenue needs. “We have got ourselves down the path of the Green Energy Act,” he said, referencing a visit by then energy minister George Smitherman to North Bay while Mr. Fedeli was mayor of that city. “He told us that the GEA was not going to add one cent to hydro bills.”
But Mr. Fedeli noted “the Auditor General told us that there was no business plan developed” prior to the introduction of the GEA. “The auditor went further,” he said, pointing out that the contracts were based on guesses, that they were locked in for 20 year terms at high rates and that the government made the mistake of agreeing to take power when it was made, thereby committing the utility to pay for wind energy at night when it was not needed. “It was a slippery slope,” he said, that eventually wound up costing $3.6 billion in order for Quebec or the US to take the power.
When wind turbines do create power in the daytime, the utility is forced to move wind power to the top of the chart, ensuring that water flows over unutilized turbines to the tune of $300 million last year. “If the wind really blows, they shut down a nuclear plant,” asserted Mr. Fedeli. “That happened two years ago for five days at a cost of $80 million. There were a lot of unintended consequences (to the GEA).”
“I don’t agree with your answer, I think it is taxes myself,” responded Raymond. Mr. Fedeli in turn responded that he respected his opinion, but pointed out that there were many “ridiculous decisions” that have impacted other taxes. He pointed to the bailout of a US realtor in regard to the MaRS Discovery District (a technology incubation facility) to the tune of $410 million. “We are laying off frontline health care workers,” said Mr. Fedeli, pointing to the closure of 60 beds and the layoff of 350 workers in his home community. “That is what we are getting into.”
Former PC candidate and Little Current businessman Jib Turner interjected that the cost of hydro is also impacting local property taxes through the cost of maintaining facilities such as the arena.
Ratepayer’s Association secretary Irene Callaghan brought up the issue of times of use rates for electricity. “It is ridiculous,” she said. “A mother with two or three children has to use the washer and dryer and be folding laundry late at night, all because they don’t want to pay 18 cents a kilowatt hour. I don’t understand why you can’t take one price all day long.”
Ms. Callaghan was also upset about the way Hydro One responds to consumers when they call. “They are not at all kind to people,” she said.
“That latter one is close to number one in complaints to our offices,” said Mr. Wilson. He pointed out that the Ontario Ombudsman “is trying to get the answer. Any new government coming in is going to have to deal with it. It needs to change.”
Mr. Wilson asserted that “they don’t care about jobs-they care about the elite environmentalists in downtown Toronto.”
Tony Ferro of Sheguiandah asked about the 200,000 Hydro One shares being sold to First Nations. “Could you elaborate on that,” he asked.
Mr. Fedeli retorted, “I want to tell you, (but) they (the government) don’t tell us,” he said. “They are loaning First Nations the money to purchase the shares and selling them at a greatly reduced price.”
With the privatization of Hydro One, the answers to many questions will no longer be accessible, added Mr. Fedeli. “They won’t have to tell you. No Freedom of Information Act requests, no auditor general, no financial accountability officer, the list goes on and on. No sunshine list, you can’t find out anything.”
One gentleman noted that he had worked in a plant in southern Ontario that has now left the province. “Ontario is too expensive,” he said. “You can email the premier, but I don’t want her doing things for my grandchildren.”
Mr. Fedeli agreed, noting that Ontario has slipped from being the number one region for foreign investment in North America to fourth. He went on to reference the cap and trade regime being put forward by the province as “an absolute tax grab” and said that Ontario has “380,000 red tape regulations.”
Joanne Wade of Sheguiandah voiced the frustration that the two politicians said they have heard countless times in their meetings. “We should have a say,” she said. “We can fight and fight, they just don’t listen. Nobody listens.”
Ms. Wade, who identified herself as a retired nurse, said that she was concerned about the health care system and the fate of seniors. “There are going to be suicides,” she predicted, adding that she herself has spent many sleepless nights recently worrying about the impact of rising costs and taxes.
“There should be hundreds of people here,” she said, “but there aren’t, they are discouraged.”
Mr. Wilson responded that the premier “is a very self centred person” and that “she takes it personally when people don’t like her” suggesting that emails to the premier would have more of an effect than might be thought.
“When I was a minister, if I were to see 10 emails on an item, I would be concerned, when I saw hundreds or thousands, I would go see my staff to find out what the heck was going on,” said Mr. Wilson.
Mr. Wilson asserted that a PC government would return planning authority to local municipalities in regards to wind turbine placements. He noted that short of an appeal to the Ontario Municipal Board, “which nobody ever wins unless you are a turtle,” a recent decision to place 500-foot wind turbines at the end of a runway would go ahead due to the lack of regulations on placement.
In items brought before the duo in their meetings, long term care came second only to Hydro One bills as public concerns, noted Mr. Wilson. “The province has not issued a new licence in years,” he said, but added “don’t give up.”
Ms. Wade said there was a strong need for retirement homes, to fill in between living at home and moving into a nursing home. “There are people going into nursing homes because that is the only place to go,” she said.
Mr. Turner, a former Northeast Town councillor and PC provincial candidate, referenced a former teacher crying at the till in his store “because she had nowhere to go.”
Wind turbine activist Ray Beaudry noted that Algoma-Manitoulin has an NDP MPP. “What is their position on the GEA compared to the PCs? Why do public utilities get a cut rate so that residents of Toronto pay a lower rate?” he asked. “Will the PCs make it the same rate all across the province?”
“The real difference is the delivery charges,” responded Mr. Wilson. He pointed to the thousands of kilometres of wires that “no disrespect, they had to run lines out to rural Ontario to some guy with two solar panels.” Mr. Wilson asserted that the GEA and renewable energy has “made a lot of people filthy rich and a lot more people are getting poorer.”
Jiggs Elliott of Little Current tackled the question of fishing limits. “How can we have tourism if they can only catch three fish?” he asked. “Where are the fish? They say it is cormorants, it is not the cormorants, you see commercial fisherman come in with four tons of perch filets. The game fish, they are gone. It’s not the cormorants, it’s the commercial fisherman.”
Mr. Elliott also challenged the application of tax onto heating oil fuel.
Mr. Wilson noted that a number of people “down his way” don’t bother to get a fishing licence anymore. “They would rather go out and pay the fine,” he said. “You won’t get caught because there are no COs (conservation officers) in my area.”
As to fuel oil costs, “it’s going to get worse under cap and trade.”
Vince Belenson said he had three concerns, raw milk and the right to consume whatever he wants to, the lack of GMO labelling on food and the chem trails being spilled across the skies by jet engines.
Mr. Wilson noted that raw milk will not be a priority as both the PC and Liberal caucuses are split on the issue. “As a former minister of health I can tell you I would prefer pasteurization,” he said. “As a small c conservative I would agree that you should be able to consume whatever you wish.” Mr. Wilson noted that pasteurization was a major issue for the Women’s Institutes.
On GMOs, Mr. Fedeli noted that Ontario has a very strong regulatory regime in regards to food labelling. “I have never had a concern come across my desk on this issue,” he said. “We will talk to our agriculture critic on that.”
As to chem trails, the MPPs admitted to a lack of knowledge of the issue. “On my way back home I will get my assistant to drive and I will Google it,” committed Mr. Wilson.
Another question from a newcomer to Manitoulin who identified herself as Matty focussed on where the power produced on Manitoulin goes. “I have friends who tell me it goes off the Island, shouldn’t we be the ones to benefit from it?” she asked.
Mr. Fedeli noted that the power is fed into the provincial grid.
Bill Koehler of Little Current noted that changing the government will take more than simply showing up “three to four weeks before the election. You have to target the seniors, that is where the votes are,” he said.
Mr. Ferro asked about the Ring of Fire. Mr. Fedeli responded that the news was not good. That from the 250 people working there when he first visited several years ago, there were only four people there on his visit last year. Cliffs Resources pulled out, selling their stake for $27 million, despite investing more than $700 million in exploration costs, he said. Mr. Fedeli asserted that it would only cost $150 million to turn the winter road into the region into an all season route.
Gary Green of Little Current asked how, if the contracts for renewable energy were for 20 years, the PCs would change things.
Mr. Fedeli noted that they would have to do it “one contract at a time” to avoid a costly imbroglio such as the gas plant cancellations, with its associated court costs. “We don’t want to do anything stupid,” supplied Mr. Wilson.
Mr. Wilson noted that the province had sold off 20 percent of the provincial grid to Samsung, permanently. “I can’t get the media to print that,” he said.
Joyce Foster of Gore Bay said she was concerned about energy costs and the size of the public debt and asked how the information would get out to the elderly and those who are alienated from the system.
The MPPs focussed their responses on a reiteration of the growth of the debt and bad decisions made by the current government.
For those unable to attend the Ontario PC town hall on the waterfront, there is still an opportunity to weigh in on PC policy by sharing ideas at www.forontario.ca.
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