Source: The Canadian Press

There will be some relief for consumers hit hard by soaring electricity bills in Thursday’s fall economic update, Ontario Finance Minister Dwight Duncan suggested Tuesday without offering any details.

The Liberal government has been under increasing fire for rising hydro bills, a problem that only got worse when the province implemented the HST in July, adding another 8% to electricity costs.

There will be some sort of help for hard hit hydro customers in Thursday’s update, hinted Duncan.

“We will be talking about things like hydro rates, yes,” he said.

“We’ll be speaking about a whole range of things on Thursday and how we intend to address issues on a variety of files.”

Duncan also challenged the Tories and NDP to say what they would do to lower electricity prices.

“If either Mr. Hudak or Ms. Horwath can lower the price of electricity, let’s hear how they’re going to do it,” he said.

In the legislature, Premier Dalton McGuinty said his government has already implemented measures to help people cope with their rising hydro bills.

“We put in place an energy and property tax credit (of) up to $900 per family and up to $1,025 for seniors,” said McGuinty.

“All told, it will help nearly three million Ontarians when it comes to their electricity and property taxes.”

Duncan didn’t wait for the update to announce the province’s projected deficit for 2010-11 has been reduced to $18.7 billion, down 25% from last fall, when it was $24.7 billion. The final deficit for 2009-10 was $19.3 billion

The finance minister credited the improving economy with boosting tax revenues.

“Growth in the economy, expenditures have tracked very well and we are seeing reasonably solid growth in a range of revenues, including corporate taxes,” Duncan told reporters.

“Corporate taxes have performed very well this year. We’re seeing some good news there.”

The Opposition said the implementation of the 13% harmonized sales tax in July was the big revenue generator for the Liberal government, allowing them to cut the record deficit.

“Oh they’ve taken a lot of money in through the HST,” said Progressive Conservative Leader Tim Hudak.

“That’s a massive tax grab on families: 8% more for gas for your car, heat for your home, for hydro rates, and now with gas over $1.08 a litre, they’re raking in a lot of money on the backs of families.”

However, Duncan insisted the increased revenues from the HST were offset by personal and corporate tax cuts the government introduced this year.

“We’re also implementing enormous tax cuts,” he said.

The New Democrats are demanding the government remove the HST from electricity bills, or at least the province’s 8% portion of the 13% tax.

“It’s really obvious. It’s really transparent. It’s very immediate and will make a difference for people in their pocketbooks right away,” said NDP Leader Andrea Horwath.

“I believe they have some room to negotiate (with Ottawa) if they want to go further than the 8%, but I believe they can take that 8% off immediately.”