Update: A mid-March poll I found over at the informative blog ThreeHundredEight.com shows the provincial Progressive Conservatives polling ahead of the Liberals 44%-35%.
While the twitterverse, blogosphere and stratosphere are riveted by the "will they, won't they" back-and-forth between the leaders of the country's two largest federal parties on the question of whether these guys will meet in a head-to-head debate during the current election, another political tit-for-tat is taking place in Ontario. It has been ongoing since last Fall, but now Premier Dalton McGuinty's provincial Liberal Party can be seen to be more aggressively firing back at Progressive Conservative Leader Tim Hudak's laundry list of critiques. And Ontarians have about six more months of this sniping before the provincial election on October 6. Given that pollsters are suggesting the parties are running neck-and-neck, it's fair to assume that rhetoric will ramp up in the coming months. As in war, there is a good chance that truth will be the first victim.
The Energy Issue
The Progressive Conservatives are spending a considerable amount of time addressing the issue of energy. In particular, they are focusing their discontent on the government's conservation programs and flagship Green Energy Act and Green Economy Act. Dubbed "precedent setting" by noted industry analysts such as Paul Gipe, the provincial Tories are less enamoured with the changes blown in by the Act. Their main complaints include:
- Rates: According to the Tories, the recent rise in electricity rates can be partly attributed to the implementation of the GEGEA and its Feed-in Tariff programs. The government acknowledged there had been an increase (and likely a future trajectory of increases) and responded with a 10% reduction on electricity bills. However, there is a debate as to the significance of the GEGEA on that increase.
- Smart Meters: The Tories have also cited the implementation of the time-of-use smart meter program as a threat to electricity bills since day-time rates will significantly increase. Their response has been to propose giving a choice to end-users between a flat-rate or adopting the time-of-use pricing. Providing this option would likely make it more difficult to meet the program's objectives of smoothing peak demand, more easily conserving and educating Ontarians about true energy costs.
- Lack of Local Planning: A major criticism of the GEGEA, which even led to a since dismissed lawsuit, has been the reduced role of local communities in the planning process of renewable energy projects. Opposition to wind farms has been the most virulent and focuses on the question of health issues. In response, the government imposed a moratorium on offshore wind power development. However, opposition groups want municipalities to be given back approval powers and have a further examination of the possible health effects of wind turbines. The Conservatives are just as likely to scrap aspects of the FIT program as much as they are to reform it to the liking of these groups.
To paraphrase a former General Manager of the Toronto Maple Leafs, "Facts, schmacts!" Just as Cliff Fletcher theorized a hockey team could be built by means other than solid drafting, politicians seem to believe they can win elections without necessarily relying on facts.
First, it should be noted that Ontario's Chief Medical Officer of Health, Dr. Arlene King, has reported that the scientific evidence does not demonstrate any direct causal link between wind turbine noise and adverse health effects.
Second, in an effort to provide some actual data related to the cost of the GEGEA to Ontario's energy system, the office of the Environmental Commissioner of Ontario has run the numbers. Commissioner Gord Miller took these facts to the people of Ontario recently on an episode of TV Ontario's The Agenda:
Hopefully, Ontarians will continue to have access to real analysis supported by real data about ALL issues in the upcoming election. It is a credit to true public servants such as Dr. King and Commissioner Miller that we at least have some anchors in understanding the energy issue while all that hot air is blowing.