The Ford government is forcing electricity providers across Ontario to change the layout of residential hydro bills, making the province’s subsidy appear more prominently.
Starting in November, new hydro bills will show the full un-subsidized per-kilowatt-hour price of electricity. The approximately 25 per cent in subsidies introduced by the previous Liberal government will be highlighted on one line, under the heading “Total Ontario Support.”
The only subsidy explicitly appearing on current bills is the eight per cent rebate of HST, as a further 17 per cent subsidy is buried in the per-kilowatt-hour price.
No changes are expected to the actual price that residential hydro customers end up paying for electricity, as hydro rates are in the middle of a promised four-year freeze.
It means when Ontario consumers check their hydro bills next month, the figures will look different, although the bottom line will remain essentially the same.
The move is about fulfilling the government’s commitments on “improving transparency and accountability in the electricity sector,” said Energy Minister Greg Rickford’s spokesperson, Sydney Stonier.
“Electricity bills will be more transparent with a new on-bill rebate which will reflect the true cost of power and is clearly displayed in a single line item,” Stonier said in an email to CBC News.
A government-relations firm that analyzes the electricity sector questions whether there’s a political motive to the change.
“If the average Ontarian did not realize their bill was being massively subsidized, which polling indicates is the case, then showing a new government subsidy line on bills may give the appearance that the savings themselves are new,” says Mitchell Davidson, director of the Institute of Public Policy and Economy, an arm of the Toronto-based consulting firm StrategyCorp.
In an analysis published on the firm’s website, Davidson says it’s logical that the government should inform people about how expensive electricity really is, and how much the subsidy is. He also compares the government’s move to a car company offering a $1,000 rebate on the price of a new vehicle, rather than simply lowering its sticker price by $1,000.
“There is a chance that Ontario families credit the Ford government with implementing the new savings,” writes Davidson, a former policy adviser to Premier Doug Ford.
After sharply rising hydro bills became a big political headache for Kathleen Wynne’s Liberals, her government introduced what it called the Fair Hydro Plan, a 17 per cent subsidy of electricity prices. The plan was financed through borrowing that the Liberals equated to a longer amortization period on a mortgage. The extra borrowing costs did not appear on the government’s books, a decision that the auditor general criticized.
Government-commissioned polling suggested most Ontarians didn’t know electricity prices had come down during the latter phase of Wynne’s time in office, in large part because the Fair Hydro Plan subsidy did not appear on hydro bills.
The Progressive Conservatives repealed the legislation behind the Liberals’ Fair Hydro Plan but kept the subsidy in place, accounting for its $2.4 billion annual costs on the government’s books.
The PCs promised during the 2018 election campaign to cut the price of electricity by a further 12 per cent. Prices have not come down since Premier Doug Ford’s PCs came to power.