Wynne readying for voters' 'judgment' in next election after hydro move

Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne said of voters that she is "prepared to take their judgment" in next year's election, a day after she announced a plan to cut hydro rates for Ontarians who were getting increasingly frustrated with her government over skyrocketing bills.

Wynne said Friday she has been "repeatedly" asked over the last few months whether, with her government sitting low in the polls, she will lead the Liberal party into next year's provincial election.

In an interview with CBC Radio's Metro Morning, Wynne said answering such questions is "part of the job," but confirmed she does plan to run in 2018.

"The poll that matters is the poll when people go to vote," Wynne told host Matt Galloway. "And I'm prepared to take their judgment. In the interim I'm going to continue to do my job."

Polls by three different firms in recent months suggest that just 13 to 16 per cent of voters approve of the job Wynne's doing.

Wynne denied, however, that Thursday's announcement on hydro rate cuts was designed to curry favour with voters, which is also how some viewed her recent decision to stop Toronto from bringing in tolls on major highways.

"There's always a political component to these decisions, I'm not going to deny that," Wynne said. "But as I said yesterday I'm not expecting people to stand up and celebrate because this is what we've done. What we've done, and what people will see on their electricity bills come summer, is a response to a real need that people were feeling and it's my responsibility as premier to respond to those needs and to help."

On Thursday, Wynne announced her government's plan to cut Ontarians' hydro bills by 17 per cent.

The cut will come into effect this summer.

The move is in addition to an eight-per-cent cut that came into effect on Jan. 1 in the form of a rebate on the provincial portion of the HST on hydro bills.

Small businesses will also see their bills go down, and more medium-sized businesses will qualify for a preferential electricity rate that is currently given to larger industrial businesses.

The plan is made possible by a move to stretch the financing costs of billions of dollars' worth of hydro projects, such as building and refurbishing power plants. Lengthening these payment schedules will result in as much as $1.4 billion in annual interest, officials told CBC Toronto, costs that will be paid by hydro customers in future years.

The plan keeps electricity rates at or below the rate of inflation over the next four years, but the government would not commit to the size of rate increases after that.

Residents have been complaining for months of soaring bills, which prompted Wynne to bring in the 8-per-cent cut in January. But she said her government "realized some months ago" that Ontarians needed more relief.

"It's not right, it's not acceptable that people would have to choose between feeding their kids, paying the rent and paying their electricity bills," the premier said Friday.

Opposition parties criticized the plan Thursday, saying that their children's children would be paying for it.

'Everybody is paying their share'

Wynne said Friday if she were to answer to her own grandchildren about the scheme, she would explain that she wants their parents to be able to "look after you now and do the things that are going to make your life good right now, but that will mean that you will also have to pay for a strong and clean electricity system into the future.

"But it means that everybody is paying their share. Because those assets, that building that we've done [in the hydro system] is going to last for a long time."

Asked whether she feels out of touch with residents' concerns, Wynne countered that the new policy is a direct response to people's concerns.

"I've said and I've acknowledged that we didn't pay as close attention to people and their electricity rates as we should have. You and I are having this conversation today because I get that, I get that we need to put in place support for people right now, it needs to be lasting, it needs to be structural change and that's what we have done," Wynne said.

"My earnest hope is that when people see those changes on their bills in the summer that they will recognize it's making their lives easier and they can move on to other things, because I don't want people to focus on their electricity bills to the exclusion of doing things with their family and feeling comfortable in their lives. That's not right."