On June 12, 2014, the Ontario general election saw the minority Liberal government returned with a solid majority. The seat breakdown is as follows:
- Liberals: 581
- Progressive Conservatives (“PC”): 28
- New Democratic Party (“NDP”): 21.
This represents a gain of five seats for the Liberals from the last general election in 2011 (53), a loss of nine seats for the PCs (37) and a gain of four seats for the NDP (17). The geographic breakdown shows that the Liberals took 20 of 22 seats in Toronto, most of the 905 region, four urban seats in Ottawa and two seats in the north. The PCs still have the dominant position in the rural areas of Ontario and the NDP hold seats primarily in the north, southwest and Niagara region.
ELECTRICITY POLICY: IMPLICATIONS OF A MAJORITY GOVERNMENT
Majority governments enable the governing party to move forward their legislative and policy agenda without political obstacles usually present in minority legislatures. For example, the introduction of legislation does not depend on agreements between the House Leaders’ offices of the opposition parties. In addition, the government can structure standing committees without the need to consult the opposition parties. Governing parties also have more representation on these committees, thus reducing the influence that opposition parties can have on the bills being debated.
At a more informal level, majority governments give the ruling party the ability to develop longer-term policy without the fear of confidence motions that could trigger general elections. In summary, then, majority governments have more flexibility and power to implement their policy agenda since they don’t have to manage the opposition parties as closely as they would in a minority government.
ELECTRICITY POLICY AND PROCESS ISSUES:
In terms of electricity policy, the Liberal majority gives the Minister of Energy the ability to move the current policy agenda forward consistent with the mandate given to him or her by the Premier. If a new Minister is appointed, then he or she will need to become familiar with the details relating to the existing energy policy prior to making any substantive decisions.
But since the Liberal election platform document (“The Jobs and Investment Plan 2014”) and the May 1st budget all supported the Long Term Energy Plan (“Achieving Balance”), we can assume that this will form the core of the Liberal government’s energy policy over the next four years.
In terms of timing, on July 2, the government will recall the Legislature and deliver a Speech from the Throne that will outline the government’s key priorities for the next year or so. This may include one or two signature electricity policies that show the government is staying the course but that is sensitive to Ontarians “pocketbook” concerns. For instance, the government may mention eliminating the Debt Requirement Charge from residential electricity bills.
And then in the middle of July, the government will re-introduce the May 1st budget. We may see older electricity policy announcements mentioned in the budget repackaged and highlighted to showcase the concerns of the new government. For example,
- Invest a total of 20,000 MWs of renewable energy projects by 2025;
- The small business “Five Point Business Energy Saving Plan”;
- Working with energy agencies, local distribution companies and the Retail Council of Canada, the government will promote the use of Roving Energy Managers. These managers will support small business on energy saving projects;
- The saveONenergy for Business Conservation program will be tailored to small businesses to ensure they can benefit from programs that help them manage and reduce energy costs;
- The saveONenergy for Business Conservation program will be expanded to provide further incentives to businesses to make participation more accessible;
- The government will assist small businesses with the upfront capital costs of conservation projects to allow on-bill financing for the sector starting in 2015;
- The government will commit to another six years of conservation programs to ensure incentives continue to be available for small businesses through the new Conservation and Demand Management Framework.
- Give ratepayers more tools to lower their bills, depending on the time of day they use electricity and assist in paying for energy-saving technology by stretching payments for new investments on their energy bill over a number of years.2
Additional electricity policy proposals that will be in the budget include:
- Introduce legislative amendments to consolidate the Ontario Power Authority and the Independent Electricity System Operator;
- Bruce Power and Ontario Power Generation to find savings for ratepayers through economies of scale in both refurbishment and operations;
- Create a $3 million, three year “Remote Electrification Readiness Program” to assist remote First Nations to more fully benefit from new transmission projects in the far north;
- End the Ontario Clean Energy Benefit on December 31, 2015 and replace it with a planned rate-base program with the Ontario Energy Board to report back on program options targeting low income Ontarians.3
In summary, a majority government will allow the Minister of Energy to move forward with the key policy initiatives underway while giving him or her the option of introducing modest reforms based on various policy inputs from electricity sector stakeholders.