QUEEN’S PARK – Thunder Bay Atikokan MPP Bill Mauro had a busy day on Tuesday. Mauro was in Thunder Bay in the morning to announce plans to shift the Thunder Bay Generating Station from coal to natural gas. In the afternoon, Mauro was up in Queen’s Park to debate an opposition motion on Hydro Charges.
Here is the text of Mr. Mauro’s remarks from the Hansard at Queen’s Park:
I’m pleased to have six minutes left on the clock today to speak on this opposition day motion. Like many of our members on this side of the House, I guess I’m wondering a little bit why the official opposition, the Conservatives, would use their last opposition day motion of the session to speak on this file, given the history that they have as a party with mismanaging it in such a gross way, which they did from 1995 to 2003. It’s a little bit, I would say, like leading with your chin.
Speaker, I want to read into the record a few things for you. But first, we’ve heard mentioned a few times from the opposite benches about the issue of transparency. I’m going to read this for you: “The projections in its 2009 annual report indicate that the Ontario Electricity Financial Corp.”—the corporation set up by the Conservatives when they were the government of the day—“will be in a position to offset its liabilities in the years ranging from 2015 to 2018, at which time the debt retirement charge will end.” It appears that there is reporting going on in this regard already. The numbers are in the annual report from the Ontario Electricity Financial Corp., set up by you when you were in government.
But there are a few specific points that I want to read into the record when it comes to the debt retirement charge, and to make sure the people in my riding of Thunder Bay–Atikokan are aware of this. The charge was slapped on everybody’s energy bill in 1999 as a result of the policies of the government of the day at the time: the Conservative government, when they were in power from 1995 to 2003. It began in 1999. From 1999 to 2003—and this one’s a beauty—the PC government actually added to the stranded debt. It rose by $1 billion over those four years, from $19.4 billion to $20.5 billion.
I know it went up by $1 billion in those four years, but what I don’t know is how much you collected during those fours years—but you did collect, because you put the debt retirement charge on people’s bills in 1999. So not only were you collecting for four years the charge that you instituted, but the debt went up in those four years; it didn’t go down. It went up by $1 billion. Where did the money you collected in those four years go? The debt didn’t go down while you were collecting it; it went up. Contrast that to our government: The debt’s been going down by about $1 billion a year over the last six years.
The stranded debt is currently $5.7 billion lower than it was in 2003. By paying down $5.7 billion, we’re saving the taxpayers of the province of Ontario $408 million a year in interest expense. I don’t know how much was costed to us by the former government when they let the debt increase even while they were collecting the debt retirement charge. I don’t know where that money went. I would sure like to know. The Ontario Electricity Financial Corp. is projecting the debt to be paid down by another $1 billion this fiscal year.
To summarize: To date, $7.8 billion has been collected under the debt retirement charge, and $5.7 billion has been used to pay down the principal. Those are numbers that I haven’t heard anybody dispute. They sound like they’re beyond the point of debate.
There are costs associated with some of the things that we’re doing on energy. Nobody on this side of the House has ever disputed that.
Just this morning, I had the opportunity, in my riding of Thunder Bay–Atikokan, along with my colleague Michael Gravelle, to make a tremendous announcement, an announcement that was committed to by all three political parties in the 2003 election; that is, that they would all go off coal. All three parties said it: Ernie Eves, the leader of the PCs, said it; Howard Hampton, when he was the leader of the NDP, said it; and our leader, Dalton McGuinty, said it. And we’re doing it: five coal plants in the province of Ontario; two of them were in my riding of Thunder Bay–Atikokan.
In August just past, I had the great pleasure of announcing that the Atikokan generating station will be converted to biomass, creating construction jobs, saving 100 jobs in that plant, saving 40% of the municipal tax base for the town of Atikokan, and on it goes, potentially creating another wood products industry in northwestern Ontario as a result of that decision. We did that—the first plant to be converted to biomass, I believe it’s fair to say, in the history of the province of Ontario. That was the first one in my riding that we converted. Everybody said they were going to consider doing it. We’ve done it. That costs some money. Are they telling me over there that they don’t want to do that?
Then, this morning in Thunder Bay, the second coal-fired generating station that’s in my riding: My colleague Michael Gravelle and I announced this morning that the Thunder Bay generating station will be converted to natural gas. We’re going to save both those plants.
Both of those are things that I’m very proud of. I’m very proud of having accomplished that in the riding of Thunder Bay–Atikokan. It’s going to save a lot of jobs, it’s going to save a lot of tax base, it’s going to create a lot of construction jobs, and that list goes on.
Are the people across the aisle telling me that they’re not interested in that? Remember, in 2003 you committed to it, your party committed to it. There’s a cost associated with it. Are you going to roll back on it? Are you going to say you don’t support it now?
I heard my colleagues speaking earlier. At some point, somebody please tell me what kind of generation you’re interested in. You don’t like nuclear. You don’t like wind. You don’t like solar. You don’t like hydraulic. I don’t know what it is you like. You say gas is too expensive. You’ve got to pick something.
From 1990 to 1995—everybody has a record—under the NDP, it went up by 40% in five years. They cancelled conservation programs. They didn’t replace it with anything. They cancelled Conawapa, a great deal from Manitoba that was set up by the David Peterson government in the late 1980s. We would have had energy at four cents a click forever. They got rid of it. As well, the Conservatives artificially capped the price of power in 2002, I believe it was, at 4.3 cents, and the Conservatives hid the true cost of that energy in the debt retirement charge, the very thing that we find ourselves speaking about today.