NFTP – Master Juggler?

I can’t remember when my team and I hit the ground running sooner and at a faster pace than we have following the election just six months ago. Then, I had loftily envisioned my team and I performing as professional jugglers working to keep Algoma-Manitoulin running. But I quickly brought myself back to earth when I realized that the real juggling talent is found in the homes of the very people that I represent.

Think of a juggler you have seen on stage or TV. How many items might they try to keep in the air at once? 3, 4, or maybe 5 items? Then think of your friends, neighbours, or your spouse who may be struggling to keep their households going. They are juggling a multitude of problems thrown at them all at once, such as rising rates of Covid and RSV, childcare costs, gas for their vehicle to get to work, school, and medical appointments. In addition, they are juggling skyrocketing grocery bills every week and unaffordable increases in home heating costs.

If an entertainer drops the ball, we can laugh it off. But if a juggler responsible for his or her family drops the ball, the well-being of loved ones is at stake. Anyone who is keeping all of those balls in the air these days is a master juggler.

Even now, as winter approaches, families are feeling squeezed by the skyrocketing cost of everything. But they are especially worried about current and future increases in natural gas prices. My team daily hears heart-wrenching stories delivered by voices genuinely shaking with fear and frustration. We hear tearful pleas for help to pay impossibly high heating bills.

Statistics show that about half of all Canadian homes are heated with gas furnaces. This summer, natural gas prices rose to about $9 per gigajoule, which, for comparison’s sake, is about 3.5 times the average price rate over the last 6 years. And analysts say there is little to no chance of the price dropping again soon.

Natural gas is traded as a commodity. Canada exported less than 10 percent of its natural gas production in years past. However, as a result of the war in Ukraine, since Russian-produced natural gas is off-limits, more and more countries are competing to purchase our natural gas. This increase in demand allows gas companies to charge more and more with each passing month. Currently, commodity prices are double what they were this time last year. And gas companies don’t care if the consumer is from North Bay or the European North Atlantic. Canadian corporate profits and profit margins in the oil and gas sector have soared faster than any other major sector of the economy.

Gas companies adjust their prices every three months. On October 1, the Ontario Energy Board approved a new rate increase of between 5 to 10 percent (depending on what region of the province you live in). That is bad enough, but worse is that the increase comes on top of a rate hike between 18 to 23 percent in July. As a result, some households will be paying $500 more than last year.

In their election campaign, the Conservatives made lofty promises about making energy bills more affordable than they were under the Liberals. But after four years and counting, Ontarians have only seen their energy bills surge under Premier Ford’s watch. Mr. Ford has left families at the mercy of price-gouging energy companies and volatile energy markets. He just keeps quietly rubber-stamping increases to natural gas rates while watching his wealthy corporate supporter friends’ purses grow bigger — even as we head into a winter that is expected to be especially cold.

The Conservatives say that because oil and natural gas are commodities subject to world market pricing, there is nothing that can be done to control the price. That is not true. New Democrats say that it doesn’t have to be this way. Someone needs to step up to protect families.

The government could direct energy companies to put a lot more money into conservation energy programs to help customers. They should be looking very seriously right now at a program for relief for particularly low-income consumers who will have the greatest difficulty. They should make sure they can eat and heat through this winter.

The NDP has a workable plan.

The provincial NDP supports their federal counterparts’ proposed plan to effectively help offset consumer heating costs. The Federal Parliamentary Budget Officer (PBO) released his findings on the Federal NDP’s proposal to apply a windfall tax on excess profits made by big oil and gas companies and big box stores earned at the expense of working families. The PBO’s independent report verified that the NDP proposal would generate $4.3 billion over 5 years. That money could be used to waive the HST and/or PST off home heating for families dealing with the increased cost of everything and higher interest rates. Some readers might recall that some time ago, I put forward a Private Members Bill calling for the removal of PST from home heating bills. The bill was unfortunately defeated.

We should be providing immediate relief on natural gas bills to families struggling to keep up and those who need it most. And we should be aggressively funding energy conservation programs, including improving energy-saving and retrofitting homes. We should help people upgrade to more energy efficient, environmentally friendly heating systems that will help to substantially reduce energy use while keeping them warm and comfortable. And we can make this possible by reclaiming the huge windfall energy profits on behalf of the consumers who were forced to pay such punishing rates in the first place.

Ontario ultimately needs to shift to cheaper renewable energy as part of our fight against the climate crisis. This will lower people’s bills and reduce emissions instead of locking the province into relying on increasingly expensive natural gas.

In the meantime, my hat is off to all those who are doing their best to juggle all the costs, demands, and worrisome pressures successfully to keep their families healthy, warm and safe.

As always, please feel free to contact my office about these issues or any other provincial matters.

Mike Mantha