Ontario Liberals' hydro rate cut plan did little to spark voter support, new poll suggests

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Ontario Liberals' hydro rate cut plan did little to spark voter support, new poll suggests

The Ontario government's plan to dramatically cut hydro rates did little to boost support for the Liberals ahead of next year's provincial election, a new poll suggests.

The Mainstreet Research poll, commissioned by Postmedia and released Wednesday, suggests the Ontario Provincial Conservative party remain in the lead despite the announcement, though more respondents say they are undecided about who they would vote for if an election were held today.

Earlier this month, Premier Kathleen Wynne unveiled a plan that would slash residential and small business hydro bills by an average of 17 per cent and see billions in costs lifted off customers in the short term. It meant that some $28 billion in costs would be refinanced, with future ratepayers shouldering the interest.

The move came as the Liberal government was found to be trailing the PCs by some 14 percentage points in a range of polls, and nearly even with the NDP.

Move helped to shake support for PCs, poll finds

According to the poll, which captured the views of 2,531 Ontarians on March 11-12, the move was received by 41 per cent of respondents as a political one. Even so, 47 per cent of those polled approved of the hydro plan, with 35 per cent disapproving.

For comparison purposes only, a random sample of this size would yield a margin of error of plus or minus 1.95 per cent. The poll was conducted by interactive voice response and included landline and cell line responses.

"Right now, it looks like Wynne has succeeded in expanding the number of Ontarians who might vote for her," Mainstreet Research executive vice-president David Valentin said. "But that doesn't mean they will."

"Everywhere I go I hear from people worried about the price that they are asked to pay for hydro and the impact that it has on their household budgets," Wynne said, making the announcement at Queen's Park almost exactly two weeks ago.

The Liberals don't appear to have garnered any new support following Wynne's announcement, the poll shows. In fact, it notes they dropped two percentage points within the margin of error.

"Anger over hydro prices doesn't just work like a light switch. You can't just turn it on and off," said Valentin. "I think if people begin to see a real tangible change in their hydro bills come September, then maybe we'll start to see more traction."

But with the number of undecided voters up among every demographic in the province, the numbers do indicate they've managed to "knock voters away from the opposition parties — for now."

'Thee-way race' on question of hydro plan alone

The largest jump in undecided voters came from southwestern Ontario, while the GTA's undecided rate was largely unchanged, it found. And among all those surveyed, the PCs posted a 10-point lead.

However, all bets were off on the issue of Ontario's hydro plan alone, the poll found, with PC leader Patrick Brown's lead disappearing altogether when respondents were asked who had the best plan for the province.

"When asked which provincial leader has the best Hydro plan, the results point to a three-way race," Valentin said.

"But I think the question is not how many people are going to base their vote just on who has the best hydro plan but has the premier been able to change the ballot question to not focus on hydro at all. If she can focus Ontarians on her plan for free tuition for low-income students in September or on upcoming job reform... she'll be doing a lot better."

The PCs have so far presented no plan for cutting hydro rates.

And earlier this month, Ontario's New Democratic Party leader Andrea Horwath released a plan to reduce rates by as much as 30 per cent for some households. The cornerstone of her plan was buying back shares of Hydro One sold by the government to private investors.

That plan appears to have resonated with voters, the poll found.

Horwath's score on the question of hydro alone was four percentage points higher than her score overall on voting intentions.

On Wednesday, Horwath issued what she called a challenge to Wynne: To table the details of her plan at the legislature for debate Monday.

"Show the people of Ontario what your $40 billion dollar borrowing deal really means... People deserve to see it in black and white."