By Jenn Watt
Published Feb. 28 2017
Over the past month or so there’s been an obvious attempt by Hydro One and the provincial Liberals to find ways to get energy costs under control.
Taxes have been removed from bills delivery charges for some customers slashed and most recently a bill passed unanimously in the legislature to disallow disconnects during the winter.
These are all good things that while quite late in the game will still help many people throughout the province.
But it’s still too little.
On a recent edition of TVO’s The Agenda Vince Brescia president and CEO of the Ontario Energy Association said that much of the noise about electricity rates is political in nature. He said that electricity bills account for 1.6 per cent of the average household’s expenditures. Yet as the show’s host Steve Paikin pointed out a Nanos poll in November found 20 per cent of Ontarians say hydro costs are their No. 1 concern with health care labelled as the top concern for 15 per cent of residents and jobs making the top of the list for 9.6 per cent.
Brescia clarified that electricity costs are higher for rural residents and those without access to natural gas and that low-income earners had very real challenges in paying their bills.
There is an additional factor that makes higher bills in rural Ontario particularly unjust. Average incomes in the country are almost always lower than in the city.
The Haliburton County Housing Needs and Supply Analysis in 2012 noted that the median household income in 2005 was $45198; Ontario’s median household income was $60455.
According to the Rural Ontario Institute in 2013 median incomes in non-metro Ontario were 15 per cent less than their metro-dwelling counterparts.
“The economic regions of Toronto and Ottawa now have average incomes above the Ontario average. Two economic regions with larger metro populations (Kitchener-Waterloo-Barrie and Hamilton-Niagara) have incomes similar to the Ontario average. The non-metro economic regions have family incomes below the Ontario average” the fact sheet issued in 2015 reads.
When it comes to essential services with uncontrollable prices those disparities matter particularly when the costs are higher for a population that makes less on average.
Murmurs about the upcoming provincial budget indicate that the Liberals are looking at doing more to make bills manageable. Whether that makes up for the years of unchecked price hikes remains to be seen.