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Progressive Conservatives will slow increase in energy rates: Hudak

SMITHVILLE, Ont. - The Progressive Conservatives will slow the rise in electricity rates in Ontario if they win the June 12 election, ensuring the typical household bill will be lower than previously estimated, Opposition leader Tim Hudak promised Monday.

The Tories would import energy from Quebec and the United States, cut the "bloated" bureaucracy at Ontario Power Generation and Hydro One as part of a promise to slash 100,000 jobs in the public sector, and have fewer energy agencies, added Hudak.

They'd also replace subsidies for wind and solar power, which they estimate will save $20 billion a year, and invest in nuclear, natural gas and hydro power, including refurbishing nuclear reactors at the Darlington station in Clarington, he said.

"That means affordable energy, so we can put 40,000 on payrolls across the province," said Hudak, who insisted the figures were backed up by an independent economist. "That works out to about $384 in savings for the typical family from the Liberal plan. That's over four years."

Ontario's long-term energy plan forecasts that homeowners face a 33-per-cent hike in electricity rates over the next three years, with the average household bill expected to climb by $125 in 2013 and jump $167 by 2016.

Factories and other businesses will flee Ontario if the government doesn't get hydro prices under control, Hudak said at Stanpac Inc. in his home riding of Niagara West-Glanbrook.

The company, which makes food packaging supplies like ice cream containers, has a factory in Smithville, Ont., and another in Brenham, Texas, he said. But the energy rates in Texas are 60 per cent cheaper.

New investments in machinery will go south, as will any new jobs, added Hudak.

"We know what we'll get from the Liberals," he said. "The bills will go higher and higher still, a billion dollars from a gas plants scandal that will save a couple of Liberal seats. You folks got stuck with the bill."

The Tories are rubbing salt in a Liberal wound over a decision to pull the plug on two gas plants ahead of the 2011 election — which could cost up to $1.1 billion.

Police are probing the deletion of documents related to the plants, which reached all the way to the office of former premier Dalton McGuinty. His chief of staff, David Livingston, is under investigation for alleged breach of trust, but his lawyer has denied any wrongdoing.

Hudak promised that any new natural gas plants would have to follow municipal bylaws.

He also blasted the New Democrats, saying they're the "great pretenders" when it comes to energy rates by propping up the minority Liberals for two years.

NDP Leader Andrea Horwath said she won't invest in nuclear power and would honour existing contracts — including subsidies for wind and solar power — citing the high cost of scrapping the two gas plants in Oakville and Mississauga just outside Toronto.

Hudak would repeat the same hydro privatization schemes that drove up hydro rates when the Tories were in power, she said. Her party would cut the provincial portion of the harmonized sales tax off hydro bills.

Premier Kathleen Wynne cast doubt that the Tories could create 40,000 jobs with their energy plan, deriding it as "a bit of fantasy.

"I have no idea how that connects," she said in Vaughan. "I have no idea how he would do that and continue to do the building and rebuilding of the system that is needed."

More money needs to be spent on hydro infrastructure, but the Liberals have reduced costs by renegotiating a deal with Samsung that gave big subsidies for wind and solar power and nixing plans to build $15 billion of nuclear energy that's not needed.

"So (Hudak) has not laid out how he would keep the system reliable, and clean and renewable, nor has he laid out how he would lower those costs," said Wynne. "We have done that. We have a plan."

The Liberals abandoned plans last October to build two new nuclear reactors at an estimated cost of $26 billion, after spending $180 million in preparatory work. But they said they'd refurbish existing reactors at the Darlington power station to extend their service life until 2055.

Nuclear accounts for about half of the province's baseline power.

Hudak has been gradually rolling out his plan to create a million jobs over eight years, which includes cutting 100,000 public sector jobs, cutting corporate taxes by 30 per cent and getting more young people into apprenticeships for the skilled trades.

The Canadian Press

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