Ontarians are looking for action, not deflection
November 23, 2023
Former United States Vice President and Senator Hubert Humphrey once said, “To err is human; to blame someone else is politics.”
Humphrey was often referred to by his colleagues in U.S. politics as the “Happy Warrior” because of his commitment to improving the lives of the most vulnerable in society and his unwavering belief that it could be done in a positive way. But, as the quote above shows, even the Happy Warrior was not immune from the cynical worldview that politics can bring out in us.
Humphrey’s quote was on my mind during the past couple of weeks at Queen’s Park as the Progressive Conservative government decided to schedule several days of debate on two motions regarding the federal carbon tax. The first of these motions called on the federal government to “eliminate the carbon tax on grocery items.” The second asked the feds to “take immediate steps to eliminate the carbon tax on fuels and inputs for home heating.”
For anyone who is unaware, a motion or resolution is different from legislation. They have no legislative power, nor do they impose a policy change at any level of government. What motions and resolutions amount to is a statement of the legislature’s position without additional follow-up.
In principle, there are merits to the ideas behind the above motions. The federal price on carbon has been paused in Atlantic Canada on home heating fuels by the government of Canada. I believe this should be extended to all Canadians given the challenging economic times we face. According to Environment Canada’s most recent breakdown, heating and agriculture do not make up the most significant portions of greenhouse gas emissions in Canada. It follows that providing economic relief in these sectors aligns with the goal of helping reduce costs while maintaining our goal of lowering pollution.
However, I do take genuine issue with the motivation behind both motions, which is to try to turn the blame away from the provincial government for its failure to help Ontarians and place it at the feet of the parliament in Ottawa. It bears noting that Ontario has its own price on emissions called the Emissions Performance Standards (EPS) program that sets an emissions target for industrial facilities and requires them to pay for exceeding their limits. In January of this year, CBC News released a report that estimated Ontario would collect $2.2 billion through this program, with no stated plan on how they would spend that money.
The Ford government would prefer that all the blame be on the federal program while not taking any initiative to use the tools they have within their jurisdiction. If the province wanted to, they could exempt food industries from their EPS program or reinvest the money they collect through the program to help bring down prices on everyday goods. Or they could easily take that $2.2 billion and use it to assist Ontarians by subsidizing efforts to retrofit their homes so people can save on their energy bills.
I put this question to the Minister of Energy this week. Given that the government spent days debating motions that amount to a strongly worded letter to the Prime Minister, I asked the Minister what action he is taking to bring down hydro rates in Northern Ontario. He came into office on a promise that energy would cost less under a Conservative government. Yet, today, we are paying more than ever when you factor in usage costs and delivery charges. Hydro is also within the provincial government’s jurisdiction, and the Minister has the power to make meaningful change for Ontarians who are struggling to pay their hydro bill.
Unsurprisingly, I did not receive an answer from the Ford government on why there were no measures in their fall economic statement to provide relief on hydro to Ontarians. This government has decided that it is more politically expedient to use the time of the legislature and the province’s power to cast blame elsewhere.
It is incredibly frustrating to see that nothing substantial was offered to help Ontarians with the price of heating, hydro, or groceries in the fall economic statement. I say that it is frustrating because, at the same time, the government announced that it would keep $5.4 billion in its contingency fund and reserve an extra $1 billion of planned spending from the spring budget. Leaving 2.6% of our budget idle (it is not being applied to the provincial debt either) during a time of looming economic crisis is bad fiscal policy, plain and simple.
Those unspent billions could have gone to tangible measures to relieve the burden on Ontarians’ pocketbooks, such as removing the provincial portion of HST on home heating or eliminating the ESP on the food industry. There is an almost endless list of options that Premier Ford could choose tomorrow that would do more than toothless motions meant to stir up anger and division.
“To err is human…” that remains true. However, the deliberateness of Premier Ford and his government’s inaction on so many files feel much more like a calculated political strategy than an error. And I know many Ontarians are just as frustrated as I am. And I am sorry to say Huber Humphrey’s rewording to the above age-old saying is spot on.
As always, please feel free to contact my office about these issues or any other provincial matters. You can reach my constituency office by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone Toll-free at 1-800-831-1899.
Michael Mantha MPP/député