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Hydro rates shock Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne’s approval rating

Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne speaks during a press conference in Toronto on Thursday, March 2, 2017.

Frank Gunn/The Canadian Press

Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne has seen a historic slump in her job-approval ratings as Ontarians continue to fret over increased hydro bills and the sale of the Hydro One utility, says new polling by the Angus Reid Institute released Friday.

With a 2018 election looming, the provincial Liberal Premier has the endorsement of only 12 per cent of voters, down from a 41-per-cent approval rating just 18 months ago, the Angus Reid Institute survey revealed.

The institute's executive director, Shachi Kurl, said Ms. Wynne has sunk to depths almost never seen among provincial premiers in recent history, with only former British Columbia premier Gordon Campbell dropping below 10 per cent before he resigned in November, 2010.

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"There is no way to sugar-coat this, it's not a good situation for the Premier," Ms. Kurl said. "But clearly, based on what we're seeing and hearing, there may be some continuing belief that the Premier herself, or the party can turn things around" before an election that is scheduled for June, 2018.

Explainer: Why does Ontario's electricity cost so much? A reality check

In surveying premiers' approval ratings, the Angus Reid Institute polled 5,404 Canadians, including 804 Ontario residents. The survey was conducted between March 6 and March 13, just after Ms. Wynne's government announced it would reduce hydro rates by an average of 25 per cent for households, and more for people in rural areas and small towns that were hardest hit by rate hikes over the past decade.

"I would suggest people really hadn't had the opportunity to absorb whether or not they feel this is something that will credibly give them some relief, and whether or not it is enough at this stage," Ms. Kurl said.

"You can reach a point with the electorate where a level of cynicism or a level of hardening sets in and no matter what is done, there's no turning things around."

Most premiers saw a decline in their approval ratings this month compared with last December.

Saskatchewan's Brad Wall – who continues to rank as the country's most popular premier – saw his support drop to 52 per cent from a recent high of 66 per cent last May. British Columbia's Christy Clark – who faces an election in May – had an approval rating of just 31 per cent, down 4 percentage points from December amid revelations of her Liberal Party's controversial fundraising tactics.

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But none are even approaching Ms. Wynne's 12 per cent. And Ms. Kurl suggests voters' anger over soaring hydro rates is a big factor. Average residential rates have doubled in the past decade, and risen ever further in less-densely-populated and remote regions.

Three-quarters of Ontario respondents (74 per cent) describe their household energy bills as "unreasonable" and a similar number expect the Hydro One sale to increase their rates even further. (Hydro One is the province's main transmission utility that also directly serves households in rural Ontario.)

Indeed, 27 per cent of respondents identified "energy/electricity" as the largest problem facing the province, with "the economy" a distant second at 16 per cent. And more than three-quarters of respondents said their household electricity bills and the sale of Hydro One would be important or somewhat important issues for them when they vote in the 2018 provincial election.

However, 62 per cent said they would factor in the Wynne government's plan to reduce hydro bills when they go to the polls in the general election.

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