Just send your wallet to Queen's Park

So I see from the papers that the Ontario government's decision to buy overpriced politically correct power is going to cost us all money. As will its need to catch up on neglected mainstream generating capacity and, gosh, lots of other stuff that will force them to tighten our belts something fierce.

From among many ominous harbingers of taxes yet to come let me draw your horrified attention to Wednesday's Citizen report on a study for Canadian Manufacturers and Exporters by Aegent Energy Advisors that "tallies up anticipated hydro cost increases from a dozen different sources between now and early 2015" and says Ottawans could get hit with a 41.8-per-cent rate hike by 2015 on top of the 17.7 per cent we were already whacked with this year alone.

Read it again. No, not the 41.8. The bit about "a dozen different sources." It seems a whole lot of chickens are coming home to roost... in your wallet.

One even has the impression, at times, that the need to admit stuff like this to prospective voters has brought politicians in Canada to an important realization. Protest against these sorts of rate hikes and they explain to you, in the aggravated I-have-a-headache tone of reasonableness overburdened parents use near the end of a hot day, that a great deal of bad policy has left a mess that can neither be ignored nor solved cheaply.

Thus the Citizen went on to note that in an interview with the paper in August, "Ontario Energy Minister Brad Duguid acknowledged that electricity rates will continue to rise to pay for the province's 'critical investments' in clean and reliable power."

It sure beats the old mantra of "Hey everybody, free money. Don't let those mean right-wingers tell you it doesn't exist." But what people in government clearly still don't grasp is the way all these things fit together.

As you've doubtless noticed, it's not just your energy bill. Your property taxes also keep going up, accompanied by reassuring verbiage about the long run and capital funds and why zero means cash grab and all that. And much of it is not implausible. In isolation I could probably even be convinced to put up with it. But it's not isolated.

Every day in every way, governments are taxing us better and better, from hydro bills to property taxes, tuition fees, fees for school supplies, eco fees, health "premiums" and more subtle things like freezing the basic exemption for the CPP so inflation nibbles quietly at us. But they don't seem to realize what the cumulative impact is or, indeed, to grasp that there is one. Every problem, from fading generating capacity to crumbling roads to Ontario's multi-billion-dollar municipal pension plan shortfall to the looming demographic threat to our social programs to the rust-out of our military, strikes them as an isolated anomaly justifying a tax hike just this once to get things fixed.

They don't seem to see that all these separate problems intersect in public budgets and, therefore, converge on voters' wallets in a highly problematic fashion. Instead, they keep promising us more: all-day kindergarten, for instance, or tax breaks for pottery lessons for the kiddies. Like the boozer who just needs another stiff one to muster the courage to cut down, they keep staggering back to the spending cabinet to crack open one fresh program after another.

Always it's bwa-bwa-bwa about prudent investments in the future. But where do these bwasters think we're going to get enough money to deal with all these crises at once? If they were to come clean with us and say the party's over, that all that free money we were promised has proved to be shockingly expensive, I might ask which frenzied charlatans told us otherwise for decades. But then we could tackle the root causes of bad governance. Because instead they insist on viewing each problem as a freak accident and dismissing citizens' frustration as proof of vexing immaturity, we can't have that conversation with them and hardly even with ourselves.

That Citizen story about hydro rate hikes also said in his interview with the paper, Energy Minister "Duguid wouldn't estimate how large the increases will be because the Ontario Power Authority is still working on a long-term energy plan, expected this fall."

Well yes, you've only been in power seven years. Plus he has no more idea of it than he does how the government will cope with health care taking 46 per cent of provincial program spending and rising while education is underfunded and the premier just expanded it and the roads and sewers are disintegrating but it's all fine here folks, top men are on it, just need a few more of your dollars now and some in a bit and another wad later and then see we have this deficit and a shortfall ...

Until at some point they tighten our belts so much we can't eat or breathe.

[First published in the Ottawa Citizen]

ColumnsJohn Robson