TORONTO — Premier Kathleen Wynne hasn't yet called a byelection in Whitby-Oshawa to fill a vacant seat in the Ontario legislature, but she is already featured in radio ads promoting the Liberal candidate.
The byelection must be called by February to replace former deputy Progressive Conservative leader Christine Elliott, who resigned her seat last summer.
In the 30-second radio spot — that started running Wednesday — Wynne says one of the things she's most proud of is that Ontario no longer burns coal to generate electricity, and now has more wind and solar power on the grid.
She also suggests the other parties could bring back coal-fired power generation, even though the Tories and New Democrats have no such plans.
"When anyone promises you cheaper electricity, they're really promising to burn coal again," Wynne says in the radio spot. "That's the past. We can't go back to that."
Progressive Conservative Leader Patrick Brown said no one is advocating for a return to burning coal in Ontario, and blamed Liberal policies, including generous subsidies for wind and solar power, for driving up electricity rates.
"This is nothing more than the Wynne Liberals deflecting the auditor general's criticism of the government's mishandling of the energy file and how their policies have unnecessarily cost Ontarians billions," Brown said in a statement.
"It's unfortunate that even before the byelection has begun the premier is attempting to distract Whitby-Oshawa voters from the government's poor record over the past 12 years.
"It's unfortunate that even before the byelection has begun the premier is attempting to distract Whitby-Oshawa voters from the government's poor record over the past 12 years."
New Democrat energy critic Peter Tabuns said Wynne's claims in the radio ad "are off the deep end," and insisted it's the Liberal move to sell Hydro One that will hurt consumers.
"She's privatizing Hydro One and that's going to drive up prices," said Tabuns. "Throwing in absurd remarks that have no relationship to what's real makes them look bad and confuses everyone else."
The Liberals point out that Elections Ontario rules allow for advertising before an election or byelection is actually called, and defend the content of the ad as well.
"When opposition parties claim that they can lower energy prices, they are talking about a return to burning coal," said Wynne's press secretary, Jennifer Beaudry.
"It is important that the people of Whitby-Oshawa are made aware of this as we head into an upcoming byelection."
All three parties have nominated their candidates in Whitby-Oshawa: Niki Lundquist, a labour lawyer, will carry the NDP banner, regional councillor Lorne Coe is the PC candidate, while Elizabeth Roy, a former school trustee, is running for the Liberals.
Wynne is expected to call the byelection next Wednesday for Thursday, Feb. 11, just before the legislature returns from its winter break on Feb. 16.
Elliott, the widow of former finance minister Jim Flaherty, quit the legislature after losing the PC leadership race to Patrick Brown, and last month was appointed as Ontario's first patient advocate.
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