As part of his ongoing battle against astronomically high Hydro One rates in rural Ontario, Lanark-Frontenac-Lennox & Addington MPP Randy Hillier is seeking letters of concern and complaint from his constituents, which he pledges to personally deliver to Premier Kathleen Wynne.
The idea for area residents to photocopy their Hydro One bills and outline their individual stories over skyrocketing costs came up during a telephone town hall Hillier held with over 3,000 people earlier this spring.
“Everyone has their own story,” says the outspoken MPP. “When the cost of a necessity gets to such a degree that it prevents you from purchasing other necessities, we’ve got ourselves a problem, and that’s what many of these people have to do: make choices we ought not to have to make in a country like Canada.” Hillier says some residents have to choose between adequately heating their homes and eating properly.
As rural Ontarians have faced monthly hydro bills of up to $500 – with one notorious case of an unoccupied farmhouse receiving a $25,000 bill – Hillier says advocacy campaigns like his have helped the premier realize the scale of the problem.
Indeed, last fall, Wynne took personal responsibility in a public talk, saying “It was my mistake. And I’m going to do my best to fix it.”
Hillier’s office has received over 500 letters and bills, and he’s taken some of the written submissions into daily question period at Queen’s Park. He says that activism in the form of public events, demonstrations, petitions, and direct lobbying have been crucial to some of the changes now occurring, from the ombudsman investigating poor customer service and billing errors to Wynne’s recently announced cut in Hydro One rates. But Hillier says Wynne’s short-term solutions fail to address what he views as the bigger problem.
“At the end of the day, it’s pretty simple,” Hillier believes. “We have a diminishing demand for electricity in our province. Every year we build more and more expensive capacity. So those two things on their own tell you there’s a problem. You throw in the third element of the rising cost to provide the operations and overhead and administration. We’re trying to reduce the marketplace while increasing our costs of production. Any other business would be bankrupt. That’s not a partisan statement, it’s just a basic business model, and this one is flawed.”
While historically low polling numbers are certainly a concern for Wynne, Hillier believes the Hydro One debacle has been “an eye-opener for her, and I want her eyes to be opened further. It’s only awareness that brings resolution to problems.” With an election scheduled for 2018 Hillier says, “I don’t know what other muck-ups we’re going to see from this government between now and then,” but he believes continued pressure in the form of initiatives like the letter campaign will remain crucial.
Recalling a lesson he learned from his days with the Lanark Landowners Association, Hillier says “getting people involved truly is the only way to make a difference and be influential in the making of public policy. Some people have infinite wealth to wield influence, but for most people, that’s not in the cards.”
This article first appeared in the May issue of Hometown News.