Values, strategy, and opportunity: Toronto 416 is up for grabs, and the parties know it

Why did NDP energy critic Peter Tabuns, in a very successful media blitz in which he attacked Ontario Liberal energy policies, not attack nuclear as the source of Ontario electricity price hikes? You would think that would be his number one gambit: it has been all along, including in a pre-election TVO Agenda debate with me, then-energy minister Brad Duguid, then-PC energy critic John Yakabusky, and Green party candidate Steve Dyck in 2011 (see the clip below). But it was not. No, Tabuns’s main rhetorical jab at the Liberals was that Ontario electricity ratepayers subsidized a billion dollars worth of electricity exports to the U.S.

Even more remarkable was the rebuttal from the Liberal premier Kathleen Wynne. Here is what the 416-based premier of the most 416-based governing party in Ontario’s history told the Toronto Star:

What I would also say to the NDP is there has not been a plan. They’re not supportive of nuclear, they’re not supportive of coal, they’re not supportive of green energy, so that pretty much leaves a blank slate in terms of a plan.

Odd to hear the NDP’s opposition to nuclear and coal lead off a litany of complaints from a 416-Liberal premier about the NDP’s approach to keeping Ontario warm and well lit.

What is going on?

What’s going on is the three major Ontario parties realize that the 416 voting region is more up for grabs than it has been since the Liberals won power in 2003. In the two general elections following 2003, the Liberals won the majority of 416 seats. But the NDP made gains. Tabuns himself was part of the NDP gains. He won a core 416 riding, Toronto Danforth, in 2006, which preserved that seat for the party. Since then the dippers took three 416 seats from the Liberals:

  1. Parkdale High Park,
  2. Beaches East York, and
  3. Davenport.

Even worse (for Liberals), the Conservatives, in a byelection last year, won their first 416 seat in a decade, Etobicoke Lakeshore. This was also at the Liberals’ expense.

Four seats may not sound like a lot. But the 416 is the last big Liberal bastion in the province (some might argue the country). Believe me, they feel every 416 loss on their hide. And they will do anything to hang on to the 416 seats they still have. They proved this in the 2011 general election: witness their willingness to lose rural seats over wind power just so to preserve their pro-wind 416 seats. To stave off disaster they then had to scupper their own plans to back up wind using gas plants they tried to force into unwilling Mississauga and Oakville ridings.

Tabuns and the NDP know this. Is that why Tabuns, a former Greenpeacer and professional anti-nuke, left nuclear out of his recent complaints about Liberal energy policy?

Could it be that the NDP has finally realized that its support for “green”—i.e., unreliable and therefore horrendously expensive—electricity is just not paying off in electoral support? Could they have finally and belatedly realized that the “green” vote they have been forever chasing is not really worth all their effort?

Perhaps. If so, then maybe, just maybe, the Ontario version of the NDP has rediscovered the values on which it was founded. Those values have to do with fairness for working families. Green energy in Ontario is perhaps the worst transfer of wealth from the poor to the rich that has ever occurred in this province. Poor people, including seniors and single mothers on fixed incomes, are forced, through the Green Energy Act, to guarantee profits for rich private companies.

Green energy in Ontario is perhaps the worst transfer of wealth from the poor to the rich that has ever occurred in this province. Poor people, including seniors and single mothers on fixed incomes, are forced, through the Green Energy Act, to guarantee profits for rich private companies.

 Those companies are unable to compete on price with the low-cost power sources like nuclear and hydro, which come from publicly-owned facilities.

So the private companies and their paid lobbies successfully persuaded the current Liberal premier’s predecessor to fix the electricity market in their favour. So now, instead of getting cheap clean power, much of it from a public company that turns 100 percent of its considerable profits over to the citizens of the province, Ontario ratepayers get carbon-heavy wind and gas power for which they pay through the nose. And the purveyors of carbon heavy gas and unreliable wind get the profits to which they feel they are entitled. The citizens of Ontario, by virtue of being citizens of Canada, receive only 15 percent of those profits.

Regardless of where you stand on the left-right spectrum, that is not fair.

Perhaps Peter Tabuns and the NDP have finally realized it is time to admit this.

Perhaps they saw how the Conservatives, whom they have for decades accused of standing for corporations and profits, have snatched this position from under their nose. The Conservatives are the only party saying they would cancel the wind energy contracts that have led to the electricity price hikes.

As for the Liberals, they must be feeling somewhat let down. After all, they bought a few months of electoral peace and quiet by announcing last September that they would not build a new nuclear plant at the Darlington site. They did this entirely to please the NDP, which, again to mollify their anti-nuclear energy critic decided that thousands of well-paying union jobs to build a major clean energy centre are less important than a few low-paying non union jobs at wind farms that produce a fraction of the electricity, and unreliable electricity at that.

But that was September 2013. Today is January 21 2014. Things have obviously changed.

It is fascinating to read and listen to the new rhetoric as Ontario slowly gears up for another election. The 416 matters now, more than ever. And finally, wind power is being hived out of the constellation of issues about which 416 voters care.

Toronto, you run on nuclear power.

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Jeff Walther
9 years ago

I hope your hypothesis is supported by upcoming events. It would be nice to see some region of North America come to its senses.

9 years ago

I’ll have to finish watching that video later, but the contrast between American “debate” shows and your panel discussion is astounding.  Having an ACTUAL EXPERT to inject reality into the false balance of claim and counter-claim?  If only… if only.

9 years ago

Having completed the video, I would like to have slapped a few of the talking heads who interrupted and made it impossible to hear the point you were trying to make.  I suspect that was deliberate, to keep the public from understanding those essentials of the issues.

Perhaps if you went back over those spots and wrote what you were trying to say, you can make it possible for some people to find it and learn.