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EDITORIAL: A conservative in name only (Spring 2022)

April 11th, 2022 · No Comments

It’s silly season at Queen’s Park as the ruling Progressive Conservatives seek another mandate from voters this June. And it’s not beneath Doug Ford to attempt to bribe voters with their own money and ignore criticism about behaving in a fiscally reckless fashion. 

Let’s rewind to the months before the last provincial election in 2018. The PCs made hay of the Liberal government’s “billion-dollar boondoggle” after they stopped construction of a gas-fired power plant to achieve political goals, costing taxpayers dearly. Doug Ford decried the salary of Hydro One CEO Mayo Schmidt, labelled him the “6-million dollar man,” and vowed to fire him. And for good measure, the PCs promised “a buck a beer.”

The beer promise of course never came to fruition, but one can expect a similar bit of candy in the weeks leading up to this vote—expect a drop in the provincially controlled portion of the gasoline tax “if you re-elect me.”

In terms of our electricity supply and distribution, Ford actually made matters much worse. Yes, he forced out the CEO, but Schmidt got a $10.7 million severance and stock options. Hydro One then had to pay a $139 million “kill fee” when an American regulator noted Ford’s interference in the planned purchase of a U.S. power company. 

The Liberals rolled out their “fair hydro plan” in 2017. Once elected, the Conservatives replaced that with the Ontario electricity rebate. Forget the $6-million dollar man, Ford’s rebate is costing taxpayers $6.9 billion in subsidies for Hydro to keep rates artificially low. Of course, this is paid for by taxpayers not ratepayers, which is not fair because ratepayers enjoy the savings whether they are rich or poor. This is a regressive tax masked as a rebate; furthermore, it’s a disincentive to conserve. Since electricity is relatively cheap,  there is less and less justification to pursue renewable energy generation. If a consumer is faced with buying a more expensive, yet more efficient fridge, why would they? If the efficient fridge is $300 more, but the electrical savings is just $12 per year, it makes no economic sense. 

Two years of PC rule saw the subsidy grow from $4 billion to $5.6 billion, and, according to Ontario’s own financial accountability office, it will reach $6.9 billion this fiscal year. It’s ballooning in billions and Ford knows that it’s a huge problem of his own making. Traditionally, conservatives are not fans of meddling in market forces—protecting consumers from the poor economic outcomes of their choices. Ford needs to level with people about the true cost of electricity. 

He is also cancelling license plate renewals which will save drivers $120 per year. If you are an affluent family with multiple vehicles your savings will multiply. This is yet another instance of regressive fiscal policy, shifting the burden from ratepayers to taxpayers. This will cost Ontario taxpayers a cool $1 billion-a-year. He is lowering tolls on provincially controlled highways, which again hurts all of us, to benefit individuals who drive on those routes. 

The premier’s campaign promises then and now, and his performance over four years, reveal that we can expect more rebates which will further drain provincial coffers of funds for long-term, health care, education, child care, and a myriad of other things we expect government to do. But Doug Ford is a populist, not a conservative. He is probably less conservative than governments of other stripes have been or would be. He does not exist on the ideological spectrum at all.


Tags: Annex · Opinion