Why are Ontario residents having to choose between paying their hydro bill and buying groceries?

by McTeeg on November 25, 2016 - 5:06pm

It comes as no surprise that many Canadian provinces have and continue to rely on coal-fire power generation. It’s also not news that Ontario has recently managed to go coal free as part of their initiative to reduce emissions and move towards renewable power sources. However, as great as this is from an environmental perspective it has come at a cost, specifically in the form of expensive hydro bills. Financial Post article “Ontario advises other provinces to avoid its ‘mistake’ and keep an eye on hydro bills as coal phased out” gives great insight into how governments aren’t always right and can make costly mistakes when it comes to resource management. I think this article is a great example of the complexity that surrounds balancing economic and environmental factors when managing environmental issues. The article mentions that electricity rates increased by 70% between 2006 and 2014, the period when coal was being phased out. I believe it’s obvious to many that this is an intense increase and as Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne said, “people have told me that they’ve had to choose between paying the electricity bill and buying food.” A problem this severe is a prime example of how when governments have the right to exercise material power, meaning they control environmental priorities, funding and enforcement of new policies, it can lead to very poor choices in terms of the how taxpayers/consumers fair after those government choices have been made. I believe that all too often, those who are in favour of emission reduction programs and greener energy sources can easily forget how important affordability is when it comes to energy. Which is exactly what Wynne discovered after coal-fire power was phased out.

So although, Ontario has proved that it is possible to phase out coal-fire power generation they only did so at the cost of affordability. The fact that home and business owners are now faced with large hydro bills they never had the chance to turn down, has given rise to interest and value conflict between the Ontario government and consumers. Interest conflict refers to when there are differing ideas about who should be responsible for the costs associated with the project as well as who should benefit. In this case, interest conflict exists because of the Ontario government’s failure to determine the magnitude of the costs and who was going to incur them. As well, the Ontario government valued environmental progression and reduction of emissions over the affordability of hydro services which is a very serious but also a very common type of value conflict in the environmental resource management industry. Due to the nature of the resulting conflicts in Ontario after phasing out coal-fired power, Wynne is doing other provinces a favour, if they choose to listen, by warning them about what can happen if economic aspects are not given enough importance in environmental decision making. However, her words might not have made it to Alberta, where recently elected Premier, Rachel Notley could be making similar mistakes with her choices regarding carbon taxes and the shutting down of coal power.

In any case, I think the ‘mistake’ made by the Ontario government proves that environmental issues need to be co-managed meaning that environmental decisions will include public participation to foster an array of knowledge, values and perspectives into the management process. Recently, co-management has been successfully used to dissolve top-down government control and by compensating for public opinions, it has the ability to manage conflict and encourage balanced decision making to ensure social and economic stability.


Leslie, K. (2016, November 22). Ontario advises other provinces to avoid its ‘mistake’ and keep an eye on hydro bills as coal phased out. Financial Post. Retrieved from http://business.financialpost.com/news/energy/ontario-advises-other-prov...