Hydro rebates not a temporary measure, Wynne tells Ottawa businesses

Hydro rates, infrastructure and fostering business growth were on the minds of Ottawa’s business leaders as the Mayor’s Breakfast series welcomed Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne.

The premier offered comments to a full audience in the city’s council chambers before sitting down with former CBC journalist Don Newman for a question-and-answer session with Mr. Newman and those in attendance.

The HST hydro rebate, to be implemented in January, was high on the list of talking points. Mr. Newman asked the premier about the sustainability of such a rebate as it weighs on provincial debt, and whether or not the relief was a temporary measure.

“We have no plans to make it temporary. The plan is to keep it in place. We recognize that creates a challenge for the Minister of Finance,” Ms. Wynne responded. She defended the climbing costs of hydro by highlighting the government’s closure of coal-powered energy plants in the province and extra power lines laid in recent years, and maintained that the rebate was a justified financial priority for Ontario residents and businesses.

Asked how smaller businesses might become more competitive, Ms. Wynne’s strategy revolved around providing access to government grants through programs such as the Eastern Ontario Development Fund and the Northern Heritage Fund to foster growth. She said the government is also expanding the Industrial Conservation Initiative to include the energy demands on smaller businesses, which she estimated would help another 1,000 companies access ICI to reduce costs.

Ms. Wynne also touched on her government’s relationship with the “sunny ways” Trudeau government. She contended that while the relationship is not always “agreeable,” alluding to conflict over issues such as federal healthcare funding to provinces and the recently-introduced carbon pricing, she considers the levels of “respectful engagement” and disagreement to be healthy and best for constituents.

“It may not be a sunny conversation, but it won’t be a stormy conversation,” she told the crowd. When prompted by Mr. Newman, Ms. Wynne said she felt the current healthcare situation may require a first ministers meeting in order to find a resolution.

The premier also fielded questions from the crowd on infrastructure renewal, and said the province needs to connect to municipalities on maintaining linking roads.

The final question of the breakfast came from a recent Sprott School of Business graduate who,  a year and a half post-graduation, was facing underemployment.

“I was wondering what your thoughts were on how we can make undergrad degrees mean something?” he asked the premier to a round of applause.

Ms. Wynne responded by saying the question should be answered through connecting education to the workforce and giving students experiential opportunities and better understandings of the labour market.

After the breakfast concluded, Premier Wynne was scheduled to meet privately with businesses during a roundtable discussion with the Ottawa Chamber of Commerce.

The Mayor’s Breakfast series is a joint venture between the Ottawa Business Journal and the Ottawa Chamber of Commerce.