By MPP Toby Barrett

This fall legislation was introduced to enable the private sector to deliver natural gas to 78 communities and up to 33,000 new customers. On Oct. 1, we also took the carbon tax off natural gas bills. This will save customers $80 a year, and small businesses, $285.

We’re ending the previous government’s natural gas subsidy. Instead of a one-off grant program, our government believes in a long-term, predictable and sustainable approach. Under the previous government, companies were limited from participating in some natural gas expansions, portions of which were instead managed by the taxpayer-funded grant program.

Our proposed Natural Gas Expansion Support Program would be more than offset by the savings families and businesses get from the cancelled cap-and-trade carbon tax.

If passed, this legislation will foster private sector partnerships with communities to expand natural gas to remote, rural and northern areas. The former government banned private sector participation and even considered getting rid of natural gas altogether.

Bill 32, Access to Natural Gas Act, if enacted, amends the Ontario Energy Board Act, 1998, to enable gas distributors to add a small charge to existing customers’ bills to help cover the cost of expanding access. Any charges for consumers would be minimal compared to the savings that families and businesses would receive from scrapping the cap-and-trade carbon tax.

There is an outstanding promise to provide affordable, accessible energy that benefits everyone. In too many parts of rural and northern Ontario, families and businesses still do not have access to natural gas. In fact, in Southwestern Ontario an estimated 40 per cent of households are not hooked up. From years of doorknocking, I understand people are facing high energy bills, especially if they have to depend on electricity, oil or propane to heat their homes.

Increasing access to natural gas will put money back in people’s pockets. Estimates suggest that residential ratepayers can save between $800 and $2,500 a year just by switching from electric heat, propane or oil to gas. That’s significant for the people in rural and northern communities.

Expanding natural gas would also make Ontario communities more attractive for job creation and new businesses. This is part of our government’s plan to bring back quality jobs to Ontario and to send a clear message that Ontario is open for business.

This plan is overwhelmingly supported by the private sector. The Ontario Chamber of Commerce recently wrote: “Premier Ford’s plan to develop a new natural gas program … will not only make life more affordable for Ontarians but boost job creation and economic growth in rural and northern Ontario communities.”

With natural gas, farmers would have more opportunities to leverage modern technology. A perfect example is the booming greenhouse industry in Southwestern Ontario.

As well, Northern Ontario is a key driver of our economy and expanding natural gas could potentially benefit transportation. For example, establishing more natural gas fueling stations could enable regional bus fleets, commercial trucking/ tractor-trailers, and long-haul trucking fleets to switch from diesel to cleaner and more affordable compressed natural gas.

Please keep in touch with your ideas how to best expand the benefits of natural gas to more people in Ontario.

Toby Barrett is the MPP for Haldimand-Norfolk