Aside from the incessant warnings, Ontario's hydro crisis clearly came out of nowhere: Opinion

Aside from the repeated, incessant warnings — there was no warning.

Ontario's energy costs have spiralled out of control. Consumers are struggling to pay their hydro bills and still have enough money left to buy a ticket to one of the premier's cash-for-access fundraisers.

Who — with the exception of everyone — could have foreseen that wasting billions of dollars on cancelled gas plants, paying way above market value for green energy contracts, producing too much energy and selling it to other jurisdictions at a loss, and investing in smart meters that didn't actually do what they were supposed to do would translate into skyrocketing electricity bills for everyday Ontarians?

Why didn't someone — besides the auditor general, both opposition parties and various economic experts — say something?

'My mistake'

Now Ontario finds itself in a mess of its own making, locked in unsustainable contracts and a looming cap-and-trade scheme that will make hydro bills even more expensive, all while some Ontario families have "had to choose between paying the electricity bill and buying food or paying rent," according to Premier Kathleen Wynne. Thanks, guys.

"Our government made a mistake. It was my mistake. And I'm going to do my best to fix it," Wynne admitted in a rare moment of contrition during her address to her party's annual general meeting this past weekend.

"In the weeks and the months ahead, we are going to find more ways to lower rates and reduce the burden on consumers," she added.

Earlier measures to reduce that burden have included a pledge to eliminate the provincial portion of the HST on consumers' hydro bills — a move that will save Ontarians roughly $130 a year — which will begin around the time that cap-and-trade measures are introduced — a move that will cost Ontarians roughly $160 a year.

The government didn't seem to realize its mistake until it finally took a look at the numbers — not in the province's energy file, of course, but in a Mainstreet/Postmedia poll released earlier this month on the premier's approval ratings. According to the poll, 58 per cent of Ontarians think the premier should resign, with a dismal approval rating of 15 per cent.

Auditor's report

Those figures proved far more persuasive in soliciting Wynne's penitence than did the extra $37 billion Ontario consumers paid in electricity costs between 2006 and 2014, according to a 2015 auditor general's report.

Just one week ago in the government's fall fiscal update, the Liberals announced triumphantly, "Our plan is working."

But now, Wynne has recognized her "oopsies" and is asking for Ontarians' patience and trust while she endeavours to fix the problem.

The government hasn't specified which steps it will take to relieve consumers' hydro burdens, but it will likely include another tax break to be cancelled out by greater carbon pricing fees, or a new program offering discounts to low-income families (which would probably end up costing as much to administer as it would to offer a discount to everyone) and/or a plan to sell off the rest of Hydro One, thus providing a temporary influx of cash until the Liberals can decide whether to next burn the couch or the dining room table.   

In any case, we probably shouldn't blame this one on the Liberals. Indeed, besides the dozens of reports, years of increasing consumer prices, dire financial warnings and protests over unaffordable hydro bills — there was no way they could have seen this coming. And just as long as Ontarians can forget the, oh, last decade or so of Liberal financial boondoggles, they absolutely should trust Kathleen Wynne to be the one to fix it.

This column is an opinion - for more information about our commentary section please read this editor's blog and our FAQ.

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