Infrastructure minister 'wants shovels in the ground as quickly as possible'
By Jim Algie
Full details should be available within “the next couple of months” about a new system of cross-subsidization by natural gas ratepayers for expanded rural services, said Monte McNaughton, the province’s minister of infrastructure, in a Better Farming interview.
“I want shovels in the ground as quickly as possible because it means more jobs in rural and northern Ontario, and it means cheaper home heating bills for families across the province,” McNaughton said. The Access to Natural Gas Act, 2018, received royal assent in early December.
Officials in the Ministry of Energy, Northern Development and Mines have begun stakeholder consultations about detailed regulations to enact the new law. Those consultations are scheduled to conclude “in the next couple of months,” the minister said in January.
McNaughton, who is the member of provincial parliament for Lambton-Kent-Middlesex, expressed pride in the new law as “one of the largest, rural economic development programs that any government has put in place in a generation.”
Cross-subsidization by gas ratepayers replaces a $100-million taxpayer-funded program. The former Liberal government’s older system had promised help for projects in 11 communities.
McNaughton said the new system, which includes a charge of no more than $1 per month on all natural gas users, should help finance the system’s expansion. It should reach as many as 78 communities and 33,000 households in Ontario, government officials say.
His government’s cancellation of the former Liberal government’s cap-and-trade system for carbon pollution will more than make up for the new costs for natural gas users under the expansion plan, McNaughton said.
“Every nickel collected in that cross-subsidization will be used to expand natural gas in rural, northern and remote communities across the province,” the minister said.
WoodyUpstate/iStock/Getty Images Plus photo
“The approach that we’re taking is a savings to the provincial treasury,” he said. “This is an ongoing program that’s going to last, hopefully for decades to come, to ensure that our rural communities and our northern communities have access to natural gas.”
Asked about the effect of a new federal carbon tax expected to replace Ontario’s cancelled cap-and-trade system, McNaughton said he wants these federal taxes to appear on natural gas bills.
“There’s a federal election in (the fall), and I’m confident the carbon tax is going to be a central election issue,” he said. “The people are going to have to speak for themselves.” BF