TORONTO — Ontario Energy Minister Glenn Thibeault is defending the fact that most of nearly $12 million spent on a plan to offer discounts to low-income electricity customers went to consultants and advertising.
About 145,000 of an estimated 500,000 eligible families have been approved to get between $30 and $50 a month taken off their electricity bills since the Ontario Electricity Support Program started last January.
"Twelve million to have 145,000 families, and hopefully more, to sign up for this program is money well spent," Thibeault told a legislative committee Tuesday.
Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne speaks at Hydro Ottawa on Sept. 16, 2016. (Photo: Adrian Wyld/CP)
"These families need to apply for the program, but in order to apply, they need to know about it."
The Progressive Conservatives accused the Liberals of mismanaging the program because $9.3 million was spent on consultants, $2.4 million on media and advertising.
"Do you approve of $9 million worth of consultants to figure out how to hand out the rebates?" asked PC energy critic John Yakabuski. "Why wouldn't you have just applied this (rebate) to the households with the lowest incomes?"
The government said it's always difficult to implement a program with a means test for income because it has to involve the Canada Revenue Agency, which requires written applications. The province cannot simply give the rebates to people on welfare and social assistance payments, who are obviously low-income.
Minister suggests it's partly the Tories' fault
Thibeault suggested it was at least partly the Tories' fault that the Ontario Energy Board had to advertise the electricity bill rebate program.
"It was people that would come in from opposition ridings, specifically the PC party, they didn't know that this program existed," the minister said.
Yakabuski said it should not take two months to process an application for the program — another 85,000 have applied — and complained that Thibeault could not say how much was spent on the actual electricity bill discounts for families.
'I hope you're not hiding that from me'
"I hope you don't have that figure and are just not revealing it," he said, "I hope you're not hiding that from me because the real measure would be how much you paid out in a program that cost $12 million to implement."
Thibeault insisted "it's essential that the government work with social service agencies and indigenous communities to communicate" the on-bill credits.
To qualify for the maximum amount, a family of six must have a household income of $28,000 or less, or a family of seven could have an income up to $39,000.
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