The Premier’s mandate letters: no sign of plans to resolve a crisis

Premier Wynne: just do what I tell you. Not sure it will work, but do it. (Lucas Oleniuk/Toronto Star via Getty Images)
Premier Wynne: just do what I tell you. Not sure it will work, but do it. (Lucas Oleniuk/Toronto Star via Getty Images)

Part I

September 26, 2016

Ontario’s Premier Kathleen Wynne just issued 35 “mandate letters” to each Cabinet Minister in the government on September 23, 2016. The letters range from three to six pages, and carry platitudes about ministerial accomplishments and directions as to what she expects them to accomplish in the next two years under her premiership. (“Mandate” is defined as an authoritative command.)

One such platitude can be found in her six-page mandate letter to Finance Minister Sousa wherein she notes we (the collective we):  “Worked with the federal government to ensure the Ontario Electricity Support Program (OESP) would not be a taxable benefit.”

Any sensible person would say that money given to support low-income households in the payment of their electricity or other bills should not be a “taxable benefit.”   The OESP is levied as a charge to all of the non-qualifying ratepayers of the province via the Global Adjustment (GA) and becomes a cost of the basic commodity–electricity! So in effect, it is a charitable gift from other ratepayers who pay their escalating electricity bills every month.

Perhaps this “charitable donation” should be recognized by your local distribution company (LDC) who should be required to issue a charitable receipt that you can use when filing your tax return. The government should instruct the LDC to identify that on our monthly bills just as they tell us how much we have saved by not paying the debt retirement charge (DRC).

Interestingly, the same mandate letter to Minister Sousa notes another accomplishment: “Ontario will continue to fulfill its commitment to upload social assistance benefit programs, as well as court security and prisoner transportation costs, off the property tax base. This will ensure that municipalities have more property tax dollars to invest in local priorities.”

Electricity customers carrying the load?

That pronouncement should leave you shaking your head. In one paragraph Premier Wynne suggests the OESP isn’t a “social assistance benefit” but did require federal government approval to ensure it would not be a “taxable benefit,” and later the Premier brags about the wonderfulness of uploading social assistance benefit programs like court security and prisoner transportation costs from municipalities.  Is the reason the province could afford to “upload” those social assistance benefits  because the OESP is being paid by Ontario’s ratepayers without notice or consultation?

If the Wynne government is really looking for more money for municipalities, why didn’t the Premier instruct Sousa to tell MPAC to assess industrial wind turbines (IWT) at their real value rather than the $40,000/MW they are capped at now? Now, that would have increased property tax dollars for municipalities.

The fact is, if the costs of the OESP were properly allocated, they would be under the Community and Social Services Ministry, not the Energy Ministry.   As the ongoing news series from Global TV has noted, the number of people living in energy poverty in Ontario is growing at an alarming rate.

Premier Wynne has publicly noted the “crisis” in respect to the rising cost of electricity and the rise of energy poverty households, yet instructions to the Minister of Community & Social Services fail to respond to the crisis. Her mandate directs the Minister to: “Support the transformation of income-based and other benefit programs, with the Minister of Finance, Minister of Government and Consumer Services and human services system partners, focusing on client-focused delivery and information sharing.”

And in the Premier’s mandate letter to the Minister Responsible for the Poverty Reduction Strategy the instructions are:  “Support the transformation of income-based and other benefit programs, with the Minister of Finance, Minister of Government and Consumer Services and human services system partners, focusing on client-focused delivery and information sharing.”

It is very unclear how her mandated transformation designed to focus on “delivery and information sharing” will resolve poverty.

It is clear she depends on Ontario’s electricity ratepayers as the new charitable organization!

Parker Gallant

 

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