High electricity costs brought on by government mismanagement are driving businesses out of Ontario, provincial Progressive Conservative Leader Patrick Brown told an audience at Ottawa City Hall on Friday morning.
Mr. Brown, who became leader of the party last May, said rising energy rates are making it increasingly difficult for Ontario firms to compete on the world stage. Major employers such as General Motors are rethinking their future in the province while other companies have already pulled up stakes, he noted.
“That should alarming for all of us,” the former member of Parliament from Barrie said in a speech following the monthly Mayor’s Breakfast sponsored by OBJ and the Ottawa Chamber of Commerce. “I want to see businesses moving here. I don’t want to see other provinces or states poaching jobs from Ontario because we lack that competitive environment.
“The reality is here today in Ontario we have among the highest energy prices in North America,” Mr. Brown said, adding the average family’s annual hydro bill has increased by $1,000 since the Liberals took office in 2003.
“Low hydro rates are critical to have a competitive business environment. Companies need to see affordable energy if they’re going to have the confidence to continue to invest in Ontario.”
The Tory leader slammed Premier Kathleen Wynne’s government for signing “exorbitant contracts” for electricity the province doesn’t need and urged the Liberals to put the brakes on their plan to sell off most of Hydro One.
Last year, Ms. Wynne announced the government was selling 60 per cent of the Crown corporation to help fund new transportation infrastructure, despite warnings from Ontario’s budget watchdog that the sale would hurt the province’s bottom line.
More than 80 million shares of Hydro One – or about 15 per cent of the company – were floated in an initial public offering on the Toronto Stock Exchange last November.
“Real leadership would be recognizing once you’ve made a mistake, admitting it and correcting course,” Mr. Brown said. “I really believe the fire sale of Hydro One needs to be halted. It’s not in the best interest of Ontario.”
Noting that provincial Energy Minister Bob Chiarelli called for extensive public consultations on selling Hydro One when he was Ottawa’s mayor, the Tory leader urged him and his Liberal colleagues to reconsider the plan.
“We believe he should go back to his roots when he was mayor of Ottawa and listen to the advice that he got at that time,” Mr. Brown said.
Misguided Liberal spending has led to nine consecutive years of budget deficits that have ballooned the province’s debt to more than $300 billion, Mr. Brown added. At the same time, he said, pressing infrastructure needs such as new roads and bridges, high-speed rail and expanded public transit service in major cities are being ignored.
“Simply put, we believe life is harder under the Liberals,” Mr. Brown told the crowd of businesspeople and politicians.
Much-needed public transportation projects are being put on the back burner, he said, noting Kitchener is still waiting for two-way, all-day GO service that was promised a decade ago.
“We’ve seen a lot of talk on infrastructure, but in many cases the promises made have not been realized,” said Mr. Brown, who did praise Ms. Wynne for her recent commitment to help fund the next phase of Ottawa’s LRT project. “We need infrastructure investments today. Congestion, wait times and gridlock drag down our economy and our quality of life.”
Turning to health care, he said spending cuts are straining a system that is adding 150,000 new patients a year. Hundreds of nurses and support workers have been laid off at the Ottawa Hospital and the Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario since 2013, he said, forcing the facilities to impose “Band-Aid solutions” to deliver adequate care.
“It raises the question: how are our hospitals going to deal with more patients with less resources?” he said, adding 800,000 Ontarians don’t have a family doctor and municipalities “have to fight among each other” to recruit physicians.
“That 800,000 figure is only going to get worse. Each cut translates into reduced care for Ontario patients. These cuts hit home. You go to any hospital and they are at the brink.”
Despite the tough talk, Mr. Brown, who is in town for the Ontario PC Party’s annual general meeting, said the Tories are “not going to have partisan blinders on” when it comes to policy. He said he willingly supports initiatives from other parties such as Ms. Wynne’s efforts to break down interprovincial trade barriers.
“There is no monopoly on a good idea,” he said. “It doesn’t matter where an idea originates: if it’s in the best interest of Ontario, we will advance it.”