OTTAWA – Premier Kathleen Wynne is calling high electricity prices her “mistake,” sounding a note of contrition on one of the major issues threatening the Liberals’ re-election bid in 2018.
Amid the usual rallying of the troops at the Ontario Liberals’ annual general meeting Saturday, Wynne addressed her poor popularity numbers, which she called the “elephant in the room.”
“I think that people look at me and many of them think, ‘She’s not who we thought she was. She’s become a typical politician. She’ll do anything to win,”’ Wynne said.
“Frankly, I may have and I think I sometimes have given them reason to think that.”
Wynne said part of convincing Ontarians that she wants to do what is in their best interests is admitting when she has made a mistake.
“People have told me that they’ve had to choose between paying the electricity bill and buying food or paying rent,” Wynne said.
“That is unacceptable to me. It is unacceptable that people in Ontario are facing that choice. Our government made a mistake. It was my mistake.”
An eight-per-cent rebate on electricity bills comes into effect Jan. 1, but Wynne said she will find more ways to lower rates and reduce the burden on consumers.
Related: How Kathleen Wynne has Ontario going backwards
After her speech, Wynne wouldn’t point to any specific decision on the electricity file that she deems a mistake, but said her focus was on the big issues facing the system and she hasn’t always paid enough attention to how costs were accumulating on people’s bills.
Auditor general Bonnie Lysyk has said the electricity portion of hydro bills for homes and small businesses rose 70 per cent between 2006 and 2014.
The Progressive Conservatives say electricity rates were driven up much higher than necessary by the Liberals’ overly-generous, long-term contracts for wind and solar power.
The Liberals say rates increased because Ontario stopped burning coal to generate electricity and invested heavily in transmission grid upgrades after years of neglect.
Wynne said in her speech she wasn’t going to talk about the June 2018 election – though she did promise to visit every single riding between now and then.
More: The hard truths behind Ontario’s pricey electrical system
But the vote that’s about 18 months away was top of mind at the convention, which kicked off with a session – closed to media – from campaign chair David Herle titled “The Path to 2018.”
There was a palpable sense of relief from Liberals that they hung onto their Ottawa-Vanier seat in Thursday’s byelection. The Progressive Conservatives won the other byelection as expected in Niagara West-Glanbrook, but if the Liberals had lost the Ottawa stronghold it could have spelled trouble for their general election prospects.
On electricity bills, Wynne is taking a lesson learned from the Democrats in the U.S. election, saying she takes responsibility as leader “for not paying close enough attention to some of the daily stresses in Ontarians’ lives.”
“The conversation since the American election has very much been about people being left behind, and so when I talk about that, yeah, I’m making a connection there,” she explained after her speech.
“It’s not exactly the same from my perspective because we’ve been working for many years to build an inclusive economy, to make sure people aren’t left behind. But I think that what happened in the United States is a reminder that that is at the core of what government has to do – make sure people aren’t left behind.”