Relief may only come by moving out of province, Chippawa women tells Gates, Horwath.
When Laura Birrell and partner Fran McLaughlin opened their mail on Wednesday, it was yet another punch to the stomach.
More accurately, it was their hydro bill — and it was more than $600.
“We’re doing everything we can to cut costs,” McLaughlin said as she and Birrell opened their home to Ontario NDP leader Andrea Horwath and Niagara Falls MPP Wayne Gates to talk about the issue.
“This is my childhood home,” Birrell said, adding her family built their Chippawa home in 1960, and she has lived there ever since. “We have actually entertained selling and moving out of the province because the province is going down the tubes.”
That has because the women have seen a steady increase in the cost of hydro and see no relief in sight.
“There isn’t any disposable income at this time,” McLaughlin said.
Horwath sympathized with the women’s plight.
“People are seeing we’re reaching a tipping point and some big, big changes have to be made,” she said.
The women were advised by Niagara Peninsula Energy that they could turn to Project SHARE for help but when they did they found that help would only amount to $30 or $40 a month, “which is basically a drop in the bucket,” McLaughlin said.
They were also advised that as they had and excellent payment history they could enter what the utility called an arrears management program to catch up financially. The couple could pay off the $375 they owe in arrears over 10 months in addition to paying their regular bill.
The current on peak price for electricity is 18 cents per kilowatt hour while off peak rates are 8.7 cents per kWh.
That’s compared to a flat rate of 4.7 cents a kilowatt hour in 2004 when the Liberal government under Dalton McGuinty came to power. That’s an increase in the neighbourhood of 375 per cent.
“We’ve always prided ourselves on working hard for whatever we have in our house.”
The women approached Gates when the MPP put out the call to residents who are being affected by rising hydro costs. He was particularly moved by McLaughlin and Birrell’s story.
“It is proud families who are having trouble,” Gates said. “There’s close to 6,000 people in my riding alone (which encompasses Niagara Falls, Niagara-on-the-Lake and Fort Erie) who are behind on their bill.”
He said he appreciated the fact that McLaughlin came forward.
“What touched me when this all evolved is when Laurie came in, it was hard for her to even come to my office and show me her bill. We broke down, quite frankly, because she was just so upset that she couldn’t pay her bill.”
And being in Niagara Falls, a seat of hydroelectric power in the province, it is particularly hard to take.
“You go outside and you can hear the falls,” Birrell said. “We’re half a block away from a tunnel that produces as much power to serve a city as big as Niagara Falls or Kingston.”
Horwath said that decisions being made by the province on the hydro file are not being made in the best interest of the people of Ontario.
“The entire system needs to be overhauled,” she said, adding that a rebate in the amount of the provincial portion of the HST is not enough.
The problems began with successive governments — both Progressive Conservatives and Liberals — working to privatize the sector, starting with deregulation under the Tories in the late ’90s through to today, where the Liberals under Premier Kathleen Wynne are in the midst of selling off a 60 per cent stake in Hydro One.
“There’s no doubt there are issues with Hydro One but the wrong way to deal with it is to actually privatize.”
That’s because privatization will mean any improvements will benefit shareholders rather than consumers.
“This is something that has been shown time after time.”
“They’re selling something we don’t even want to sell,” Birrell said.
Gates, meanwhile, said response to his outreach was overwhelming. An online petition he organized generated 2,000 signatures within 24 hours.