Electricity rates

Rebate of HST for families and farms

One of the key points of the Ontario Speech from the Throne to begin the Second Session of Ontario’s 41st Parliament was a proposal to rebate residential electricity users the equivalent of the provincial portion of the combined GST and HST, in other words an eight percent on-bill rebate.

The measure, if passed, would take effect January 1, 2017. For a typical Ontario residential customer, that would amount to an average saving of about $130 per year.

Businesses, large and small, can deduct the sales taxes they pay from the sales taxes they collect using the flow-through of a value-added tax such as Canada’s GST and various provincial harmonized sales taxes.

Read my September 2016 speech to the International Economic Forum of the Americas about Ontario’s electricity system and the choices made by the Province.

As well, residential users may be eligible for other programs to help reduce energy costs:

The Ontario Electricity Support Program
Provides up to $50 in monthly credits directly on the bills of eligible low-income electricity consumer, and up to $75 per month for those with unique (such as medical devices) electricity requirements. Click to find out more.
Ontario Energy and Property Tax Credit
As part of the Ontario Trillium Benefit, the Energy and Property Tax Credit can provide up to $1,008 per year for low- to moderate-income individuals and families, and up to $1,148 for qualifying seniors. Click to find out more.
SaveONenergy for Home Conservation Programs
Offered by local electricity distribution companies such as Enersource, these programs provide financial incentives for electricity-saving measures such as LED lighting, EnergyStar-certified ceiling fans, baseboard programmable thermostats, clotheslines, and advanced power bars. Many households can achieve about $80 in savings by replacing incandescent light bulbs, and installing a newer and more energy-efficient air conditioner. Read more.

Other tips:

  • The least-used function on dishwasher and clothes dryers is the time delay. Stack the dish washer during the day, and set it before bed to start in the small hours of the night. The warm dishes will be ready to unpack when you wake up;
  • Back in the ‘good old days,’ Monday or Tuesday were often wash days. These days, it makes no difference what day of the week you pick, but it does what hour of the day you pick. Run the washing machine and dryer after 7:00 p.m. while you are home, and when electricity costs about a third of what it costs during the morning or afternoon;
  • The principal benefit of the air conditioner is less that it cools the air, and more that it dries the air in the house. Keep the doors and windows closed, obviously, while the air conditioner is running, and set the temperature higher in the summer. Try, for example setting your air conditioner at 24 degrees instead of 20 or 22 degrees;
  • Home appliances don’t grow more energy-efficient with age. Replacing an appliance more than ten years old could repay you with energy savings fairly quickly.

Hydro One

How Ontarians will keep moving in urban areas

LRT vehicle

This is the proposed light rail transit vehicle, capacity about 200, that will carry passengers up and down the Hurontario Street line between Lake Ontario and Brampton City Centre.

Both on personal vacation trips, and on government business trips, I’ve been able to see and experience parts of Asia in the last dozen years. One can feel the vitality in the people, and also in Asian cities. I’m reminded a bit of the North America in which I grew up after the Second World War. North America had not been damaged by the war, but had lived through a decade (the 1930s) of depression, and then six years of war, after which millions of soldiers were returning. North America’s economy then switched from producing the tools of conflict to the products of peace. Then in North America as now in Asia, everybody needed everything almost immediately.

North American cities invented suburbia. Asia lacks the geography to spread most of the world’s population as thinly as we do outside our large cities. Asian cities – and European cities – are showing North America how to re-invent access to a city without needing to bring two tons of steel (a car) with you.

One either believes that Ontario, and especially the Greater Toronto and Hamilton Area (GTHA), has the infrastructure, especially transit, investment needs or you don’t. If you do, you’re willing to do something about the need, or you aren’t. And if you grasp the need, and want to do something about it, you’re either willing to make the choices to get the work done, or you are not.

That’s our Ontario urban quandary in a nutshell. Canada’s economic engine is approaching Asia in density, and choking on cars and trucks at the expense of getting anywhere and doing anything. Economists call this lost productivity. Most of us know what it is like to be parked at 10 km/hr on a highway that’s rated at 100 km/hr if you’re doing the legal limit. The Government of Canada’s recent transportation infrastructure spending has been nowhere near enough to maintain what we already have. That leaves the cities and the Province. So how does one pay to expand transit options to get around the region of Ontario that drives one third of Canada’s economy? What is the range of choices available if the Province accepts the need for better infrastructure and is willing to do something to address that need? Should Ontario and our cities:

  • Just do nothing at all? Just ignore the problem and hope it will either go away, or someone else will fix it?
  • Toll the roads we drive on? Or raise transit prices even more?
  • Raise taxes: income, corporate and/or consumption taxes, to pay for ways to move about in our cities?
  • Borrow more money to fund better urban movement?
  • Disassemble health care and education in order to pay for better transit? Why those two areas? Because that’s where most of the Province’s money is spent;
  • Find some capital money in other assets in which the Province already has existing capital?

Doing nothing isn’t an option! People and goods can’t move on our highways and streets. Economists can quantify the billions Ontario is leaving on the table in traffic. The economists call this the opportunity cost. Toll our roads? I tend to side with people who feel that they’ll talk toll roads when they can see and ride on the transit the tolls propose to pay for. Transit prices are subsidized everywhere in the world, and Ontario’s public subsidy is already one of the globe’s lowest. We don’t need higher fares; we need more riders and more of the money that shouldn’t go into further clogging highways moving people on transit.

Ontario has become the most competitive jurisdiction in North America for its low tax ‘burden’ on individuals and businesses. Those who say ‘just raise taxes’ risk chasing away the geese that lay the golden eggs. Those who may wonder if governments are pandering to the wealthy miss the point. Even if the wealthiest one or two percent had all their wealth simply taken away from them, it wouldn’t be enough to solve the gridlock problem. The tax load must be a broadly-shared one within Ontario’s large middle class. The prevailing wisdom is that Ontario income, business and consumption tax rates are about where they should be right now.

Ontario borrowed a lot of money to get through the recession. There was a choice, and as a member of the government caucus, I recall the discussion about the choices. We could have lost the auto industry. We could have seen perhaps a million Ontario families lose their livelihood as the Province fired police officers, nurses, teachers and cut support levels and programs to keep bankers happy and ratios of debt-to-GDP consistent. The United States went down that austerity road. Ontario had recovered all its recession job losses fully three years before our American neighbours did likewise.

The jury is in on austerity. It didn’t work in the USA, or anywhere else. Ontario’s borrowing, however, left the Province’s families able to continue their lives and careers. The cost is that there is a limit to what is healthy to borrow. The Province, which has never missed a debt reduction target, remains on schedule to return to a structural surplus and reduce net public debt by 2017-18, as it did during its three consecutive budget surpluses (2006, ’07 and ’08) prior to the recent recession. Borrowing it all to build transit is not an option.

If Ontario would be asked to take apart something to find a lot of money to build something else, it has to go to areas where it spends most of its money: public health care; primary, secondary and post-secondary education; highways and assistance to cities; administration of justice and so on. Cannibalizing what manifestly works well isn’t how to fund new urban transit that the Province also wants to work well.

This led the Province to ask itself if there is any way to keep control of assets that we have, we value, we use and we need, and to ‘unlock’ some value within them. For example, many Ontario-based pension funds note there aren’t many public assets that pension funds can buy in this province, and thus those funds invest Ontarians’ money elsewhere. In the autumn of 2015, the Canada Pension Plan Investment Board, and two prominent Ontario pension funds, acquired a portion of the Chicago Skyway, a toll road that links downtown Chicago and its southeastern suburbs. Newfoundland-based Fortis Inc. in 2016 acquired U.S. electric transmission company ITC, a similar entity to Hydro One, for US $11.3 billion. Is it a problem if Ontarians, as investors, own part of what, as taxpayers, they already own through their pension funds?

The Hydro One proposal

Background reading:

Hydro One transmission corridor

Ontarians retain effective control over electricity transmitter Hydro One with a 40 percent share, while ‘unlocking’ funds to invest in building transit.

The Ontario Budget for 2015-16 proposed a partial sale of electricity distribution company Hydro One, with the net proceeds going to assist in building transit in Ontario. At present, about 30 percent of Hydro One is now publicly-traded stock. What constitutes a ‘controlling interest’ in a publicly-traded company? Experience and court decisions suggests that ‘control’ does not mean ‘dominance[1].’ Ontario’s proposed 40 percent ownership of Hydro One, as a publicly-traded entity, represents solid, effective control of such a broadly-owned entity. The Province has veto power over the CEO, and is able to fire the entire Board, among other safeguards.

In Mississauga, we are used to dealing with a privately-owned local electricity distribution company, Enersource. Like what is proposed for Hydro One, Enersource is a publicly-traded entity. As a publicly-traded company, Hydro One is now subject to the same disclosure, transparency and audit rules, through the Ontario Securities Commission, that govern all other publicly-traded companies, including Enersource. Publicly-traded companies are regulated through the Ontario Business Corporations Act, and the Ontario Securities Act.

Though debt is not equity and a lender is not an owner, a homeowner retains ownership and control over a family home even though the mortgage lender’s loan amount may be upwards of 90 percent of the home’s value. In debate in the Legislature, I responded to an Opposition Day motion concerning Hydro One on behalf of the Government. Click to read my response.

The ‘unlocked value’ in a public asset such as Hydro One would enable Ontario to pay for additional public assets it would otherwise be unable to build. In the case of Hydro One, the Province maintains uncontested control of Hydro One itself.

Hydro One Q & A

Question: Won’t a partially-private Hydro One be able to increase rates to businesses and consumers without limit?

Answer: Absolute nonsense! This is pure fiction circulated by groups advocating for the do-nothing status-quo. The rates that Enersource, or Toronto Hydro, or Powerstream, or the dozens of other distribution charge their customers are not set by the distribution companies, but by the Ontario Energy Board. An assertion that any distribution company, including our own Enersource (which is 100 percent private) can simply raise rates is false. Hydro One has less than a quarter of the distribution business Ontario-wide. It does not make the market. It takes the rates approved by the OEB. Always has; does now; will continue to do so. Period. People who assert higher rates, ‘just like happened elsewhere,’ will never say where the ‘elsewhere’ is, because they can’t!

Question: Won’t Ontario lose billions in annual revenues that could be used for other purposes?

Answer: Only if you assume that Hydro One’s business will never change, that its revenues will never grow, and that it will never do anything that it is not doing now. The history of successful privatizations shows otherwise. Hydro One is more likely to move into other areas of business, grow its revenues and increase its profitability once its operational decisions are no longer made on the floor of the Ontario Legislature.

Question: Will a private Hydro One mean Ontario will lose control over its energy future?

Answer: Energy in Ontario is regulated by independent bodies such as the Ontario Energy Board, planned and managed by entities such as the Independent Electricity System Operator. Hydro One, with its approximately 1.1 million customers, has less than a quarter share of the electricity distribution marketplace now. Second place is the newly-merged (and publicly-traded, just like Hydro One) entity consisting of Enersource, Verizon, Powerstream, Brampton Hydro and other local distribution companies, with just less than one million customers. Toronto Hydro is third in Ontario with just less than 900,000 customers. Some 60 other local distribution companies compete for the remaining 20 percent of the market. Firm control over electricity, regardless of who generates or transmits it, remains in the hands of Ontarians.

Question: What will the funds from the successive share offerings be used for?

Answer: Funds from the sale of such assets as Hydro One do not become revenue for the Province. Instead, they go into the Ontario Trillium Trust to use in building additional infrastructure assets. For example, the Alberta Heritage Trust is a similar such entity. Such reasonable safeguards ensure that the entity continues to focus on the public good for which it was created, and how the entity operates to benefit its shareholders, including the citizens of Ontario.

[1]An article by Liz Hoffmann in a 2015 issue of the U.S. legal newsletter Law 360 states: “The definition of controlling party always has been something of a moving target, said Bernard Black, a finance and law professor at Northwestern University. Back in 1988, the Chancery Court held that a 39 percent stake in Macmillan Inc. was enough to give a hostile buyer effective control. Seven years later, in a heavily litigated battle for Unitrin Inc., the court said 28 percent was not. So when it comes to stock ownership, somewhere between 28 and 39 percent is a fuzzy line that denotes control, moving with the facts specific to each case, Black said.

GO Transit Improvements

More GO parking, another new train

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More than 250 new parking spots will be constructed at the Streetsville GO station by 2018, bringing parking capacity to about 1,700 spots. The new parking space will be located between the existing tracks and the west parking lot, on the same side as the Streetsville station is located.

During the past three years, 100 new parking spaces have been added at Streetsville, on the east side of the tracks, and are now in service. These east-of-the-tracks parking spaces expanded an existing lot using local land bought by GO Transit for the purpose of parking expansion. As well, Streetsville now features free, designated carpool spaces.

Most importantly for weekday commuters, one new eastbound and one new westbound train will begin service after Labour Day. The new eastbound train will be an early morning run, leaving Milton at 5:59 a.m. Estimated local arrival times for the new train would be about 6:10 at Lisgar, 6:15 at Meadowvale and 6:20 at Streetsville. The new westbound train will leave Union Station at 5:55 p.m. each weekday.

Instead of trains pulling out of Streetsville at full capacity, the new train’s 1,600 seats will enable more riders who get on at Erindale, Cooksville and Dixie to get a seat on the morning GO train.

It is similar in the evening, where the extra train will enable more commuters to have a seat on the way home if they arrive on the platform at Union Station within five or six minutes of the westbound Milton train’s departure. Those westbound trains between 4:50 p.m. and 6:20 p.m. are often standing room only when they get in motion at Union Station. It can be a half-hour stand until seats become available as the train begins to significantly empty at Cooksville.

For commuters using the Square One Bus Terminal, construction will begin this fall on an additional new 130 parking spaces, bringing the total parking space at Square One to more than 330. The Square One terminal now includes a new station building to better protect passengers from weather, three GO service windows, and accessible public washrooms.

Ontario’s transit contributions to Mississauga

Since 2003, the Province has provided $307 million to the City of Mississauga to improve and expand public transit, including:

  • $167 million through the Gas Tax Program;
  • $65 million for the implementation of the Mississauga Transitway, as well as an additional $48 million to the project through GO Transit;
  • $26.5 million toward the development of transit along the Hurontario and Dundas corridors;
  • $48 million through various vehicle funding programs to buy new transit vehicles, and other one-time funding.

In 2003, GO service on the Milton Line consisted of five eastbound trains in the morning and five westbound trains in the evening, each pulling ten passenger cars. The Milton GO Line is now served by nine eastbound trains in the morning, and nine westbound afternoon trains, each pulling 12 passenger cars. This means more than double the capacity to move commuters since 2003. As well, all the stations on the Milton Line have been upgraded. The Lisgar Station was newly built in 2006-07, completed under budget and ahead of schedule, and entered service on September 4, 2007. Parking at Meadowvale and Streetsville have both greatly expanded during the intervening years, and MiWay (i.e. Mississauga Transit) connector buses now allow many more commuters to leave their cars at home and get to the GO system entirely on transit.

The Presto Card

The advanced technology in Metrolinx’s Presto Card has made fumbling for exact change, lining up to buy multi-ride tickets, inserting $20 bills into TTC token dispensers, and ordering monthly passes things of the past. Gone are the days when the western Mississauga commuter needed to pay three different companies for transit in three different ways: exact change for the connector bus, a pass or ten-ride ticket for the GO train, and a token for the TTC subway. Today the Presto Card, used by the overwhelming majority of regular commuters, does it all.

Thinking of a gift for a senior in your life? Consider getting him, her or them a Presto Card, and linking the Autoload function to your own credit or debit card. For the lucky senior (or student) in your life, that gift of an autoload on your own credit or debit card allows them to take the bus, GO Transit trains and buses, and much of the TTC with a single tap, and no more worry about exact change, passes or tickets.

More GO Transit reading

 

Seniors ID

Up-to-date identification

Summer is a good time for a reminder on three themes I have worked on, especially with seniors, for a few years: valid government-issued ID; travel insurance; and the annual flu shot.

1. Valid government-issued identification

Have you, and everyone in your family and circle of friends reviewed their official, government-issued ID to ensure that you and your family members, especially seniors, have:

  1. A valid, up-to-date Ontario Driver’s License, or an Ontario Photo ID Card if you don’t drive;
  2. A valid, and updated Ontario Health Card as the Province rapidly moves to phasing out the old red-and-white OHIP card.

When visiting seniors’ residences, a stunning number of our western Mississauga seniors discover, as we discuss this issue, that they have no valid and current form of identification, such as you need to vote, get a library card, board an aircraft, open a bank account and so on. For many Ontario residents, especially seniors and their families, valid identification is a top-priority project. Some people will also need a birth certificate issued by the Province of Ontario, or the province, state, region or country in which they were born. See this page in my MPP web site for more detail.

2. Travel insurance: don’t leave home without it!

The vital importance of third-party travel insurance whenever you leave Canada, or whenever family or friends come to visit you is a message that is getting through. In two of the last three years, our office has had no instances of distraught families either telling us a story of how they came to incur huge health care bills abroad, especially in the United States; or of how an overseas relative came to Ontario to visit, became ill and was treated, and then the hospital presented the family with a bill for tens of thousands of dollars for the treatment of a foreign national not covered by OHIP. See this page for details.

  • Whenever you travel abroad, even for a day and especially to the United States, be sure that either your home or work insurance covers you for health care issues, or that you purchase third-party travel insurance. Don’t risk your life savings for a one-time health insurance policy that costs about a cup of coffee per day you are away;
  • Never, ever, welcome an out-of-country visitor or family member without insisting that he, she, or they purchase third-party travel health insurance in their country of origin that covers them from the day the board the aircraft in their country of origin until the day they land back home again in their country of origin. The Ontario Health Insurance Plan covers eligible residents of Ontario only, and not the immediate or extended family who are not residents of Ontario, or who are not covered by OHIP;
  • New immigrants to Ontario must get themselves third-party health insurance until they become eligible for OHIP coverage. Don’t risk it.

3. Get the annual flu shot every autumn

Remember a number of years back to 2010, how everyone rushed to get not just one, but two injections to protect themselves against the seasonal flu virus, and the deadly H1N1 flu virus? The flu shot proved it worked. Deaths and hospitalizations from flu-related causes dropped immediately. See the numbers yourself.

  • Too many people think that the scare is over. It isn’t. H1N1 and its equally-lethal derivatives (H3N2 etc.) are still around. Flu-related causes not only still kill people, but as Canadians in general have drifted away from taking the annual flu shot, seasonal flu and other strains are back killing more than 300 people per year, and hospitalizing more than 5,000 people per year. The annual flu shot works;
  • The annual flu shot is free, and it works! Your doctor can administer it. So can many pharmacists, where no appointment is necessary. You can still get a cold if you get the flu shot (a cold is a germ, the flu is a virus), though most people report that colds are less severe, and end quicker once you get into the habit of getting a flu shot. More information here.

Get the flu shot! Flu season runs from about November through April. The annual flu shot works. You need to be healthy (i.e. you don’t have a cold) when you get the flu shot, and the vaccination takes effect within about two weeks. It works. It’s made from eggs, and made right here in Canada.

Pay no attention to the idiotic comments of glib Internet trolls peddling superstition, paranoia, junk science and flat-out lies. Ontario pays for your flu shot because it works, and it was the difference between life and death for a few hundred people both during the H1N1 scare, and since then. See the statistics for yourself. And get the annual flu shot, this year and every autumn.

Office Renovation

Constituency Office painting

Paint can

Eight years after we moved in, it was time for a new coat of paint in the office. The work was completed during July.

Our landlord painted the suite during July. The office post-painting reorganization is just about complete. We are back to business as usual.

Our Constituency Office building repairs following a June incident of a burst sprinkler pipe embedded in the concrete of a first floor suite are also nearing completion. We are on the second floor. Our own office was undamaged by that incident. The first floor re-construction replaced drywall ruined by the water leak. The pipe burst late Sunday night, June 24. Subsequent flooding on the first floor and in the basement shorted out the electricity for the entire building.

One of the two elevators is back in service. If you need assistance coming to see us, call our usual number: (905) 569-1643.

Contractors are still working on the main floor lobby. The inconvenience is for all purposes, over. We are back in business. Thanks for understanding.

Health Card Update

Updating your old red-and-white OHIP Card

Most residents of western Mississauga have received written notices to upgrade the old red-and-white Ontario Health Card. This is important. There are many more active health cards in circulation than there are living Ontarians. The Province needs to look after Ontario residents, but only eligible Ontario residents. Be sure to make time and get it done quickly. The red-and-white card is fading quickly into obsolescence. There is no reason not to update it to the new version as quickly as you can.

Many of us already have the new photo ID Ontario Health Card, which contains many built-in verification features to ensure that you are who the card says you are when you present it to receive treatment. However, there are still many millions of the old red-and-white magnetic stripe cards in circulation. To put the matter in perspective, you would likely change your bank if it had not kept your credit card up to date with today’s technology. Ontario is phasing out the old red-and-white magnetic stripe card for just that reason.

The change is mandatory. When the process is complete, the old red-and-white magnetic stripe card will neither work, nor be accepted. Don’t put this task off.

You’ll need two pieces of government-issued identification. For most of us, our Ontario driver’s license, and a valid passport will do nicely. To make the switch early, read this ServiceOntario web page first, and book an appointment at a convenient ServiceOntario location.

ServiceOntario has informed holders of the old red-and-white card with a letter (paper letter) that it is time for them to make the change. Along with your driver’s license, your Ontario Health Card is a key piece of Ontario-issued identification. It is important for you, your family and your friends to ensure that your identification documents are up-to-date.

Update your ID at ServiceOntario

I am unpleasantly surprised when visiting seniors at our seniors residences to find that a person who has long ago stopped driving is still carrying an out-of-date, expired Ontario Driver’s license with an address on that card at which the individual has not lived in years. The old driver’s license is thus worse than useless. It will unpleasantly surprise you when you cannot use it as a valid piece of identification, but it serves as a false sense of security in your wallet.

The better alternative is the Ontario Photo Card. It is acceptable and official identification in Ontario for voting, travel and other purposes, and you can get it at any ServiceOntario location.

What to do now

  • Update your information with ServiceOntario. You can do this in person in Streetsville at 6295 Mississauga Road North, between Erin Mills Parkway and Britannia Road;
  • You can update your driver’s license or plate sticker information on-line at ServiceOntario;
  • An important point to remember is that if you change your address with your physician, or change it on your driver’s license, that change does not carry over to your Health Card.

To get the many old, invalid or fraudulent red-and-white Ontario Health Cards out of circulation, a human being at ServiceOntario needs to physically see you, and ensure you are who you say you are and you are an eligible resident of Ontario to make that switch.

To stay up-to-date with ServiceOntario

A final personal anecdote: many people who know me are aware that your MPP is a tech-savvy elected official. I tried the on-line plate sticker renewal process last year. I received the letter on a Thursday, completed the form on-line on that Sunday, and the new sticker was in my mailbox the following Wednesday. Not bad, eh?

June Transit Update

GO Rail Expansion to Kitchener

Morning GO train at Streetsville station.

Milton Line commuters had five trains pulling ten cars each in 2003. Today, nine trains each pull 12 cars, running 10 to 15 minutes apart. An agreement with CP Rail will, if reached, allow all-day, two-way rail service.

In mid-June, GO Transit’s parent, Metrolinx, and the Ontario Ministry of Transportation reached an agreement in principle with CN Rail on expansion of the rail link to continue the planning and design work on the Kitchener rail corridor that connects Waterloo Region to Toronto. This agreement would, if successfully completed, bring two-way full-day GO service between Kitchener and Union Station. That expansion will not pass through the Milton Line, which is owned by CP Rail. Discussions between CP Rail and Metrolinx continue.

Kitchener will, assuming the successful conclusion of negotiations between CN Rail and Metrolinx, gain an all-day, two-way rail artery into and out of Toronto, passing through Mississauga’s sister city of Brampton.

The agreement in principal is to build a new freight corridor, so that CN can shift most of its freight off the section of the Kitchener line it currently owns. That shift would allow Metrolinx to add more GO service along the Kitchener corridor from Union, through Brampton, Bramalea, Guelph, and ending in Kitchener.

For Mississauga to gain access to all-day, two-way GO train service, Metrolinx must reach an agreement with CP Rail to add two new tracks on the Milton GO line. See below for background reading.

More reading:

Electricity Facts

The Q & A you need

As I attend public meetings and field electricity-related questions, I have been keeping track of the questions asked of me, and have posted some of the more common Questions and Answers on this web site. Click here for the complete Q & A list. For example:

  • What’s the real story on Hydro One?
  • How come Ontario’s electricity prices keep going up?
  • Is electricity really less expensive in the USA?
  • Should I install solar panels on the roof at home?
  • Has Ontario paid some bills that the USA has not?

And just in case you need a recap…

If there is something that is not in this web site, ask me.