Monday, September 12, 2016

Communication, Politics, Money: Wynne's electricity/electoral strategy

The Premier of Ontario launched a campaign advertising her concern about the impact of high electricity rates in proroguing the legislature, which allowed for a New Speech from the Throne setting government priorities. The speech announced a new policy for residential electricity consumers, re-implementing an old policy but providing an excuse to discuss the communication strategies impacting the electricity narrative in Ontario - among the political parties, and allegedly public servants.

A brief reverse timeline on tax policies and electricity in Ontario:
  • September 12, 2016 the Wynne government announces the provincial portion of the Harmonized Sales Tax (HST) will be rebated on residential and small business consumer bills as of January 1, 2017;
  • January 1, 2015 the Wynne government removes the Ontario Clean Energy Benefit (OCEB) that deducted 10% of residential electricity bills
  • January 1, 2011 the McGuinty government (same party) introduced the OCEB
  • July 1, 2010 the McGuinty government adds 8% to residential electricity bills when the Provincial and Federal sales taxes are harmonized as the HST
Let's not pretend that today's announcement is creative or terribly meaningful, but uncover the limitations that prevent the Premier from doing something meaningful to control costs - or allow her to let rates rise higher.

David Herle is an influential political strategist notable for co-chairing the Premier's successful 2014 election campaign. In February (2016) Mr. Hearle delivered a presentation to the Canadian Nuclear Association (CNA). The first point Mr. Hearle had on his slides was:
Rates are an increasingly major concern in Ontario. The cost of electricity is not just seen to be unreasonably high, it is widely seen as damaging to the provincial economy. 
  • Slowing rate increases is critical. 
  • Electricity is a necessity not a luxury.
A conservative strategist, Nick Kouvalis delivered a similar presentation to the Ontario Energy Association in the fall of 2015. That presentation also showed survey results indicating economy and jobs topped concerns, with energy prices not far behind.

Mr. Hearle noted some characteristics of public opinion that now drive Ontario Liberal Party public speaking on electricity. People like:
  • the elimination of coal
  • improved reliability
  • conservation
  • renewable energy (many remain positive on industrial wind - and most on solar)
Hearle, it seems to me, indicates a communication strategy that recognizes people don't want to blame cost hikes on things they like, and therefore Liberal policy is to challenge people to associate increased rates to the achievement of outcomes they desired - specifically coal's elimination in the generation of electricity, and alleged improvement to system reliability.1