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10 per cent hydro rebates in Ontario plus higher EI, CPP premiums
TORONTO - After introducing the HST along with corporate and income tax cuts in the past year, Ontario's Liberal government is forgoing any major tax changes in the New Year, but there will be a new 10 per cent rebate on electricity bills.
The Ontario Clean Energy Benefit will be applied to electricity bills for homeowners, farmers and small businesses for the next five years as the Liberal government tries to quell anger over rising hydro rates.
The rebates will help families cope with rising bills as the province invests billions of dollars to modernize the electricity system, said Premier Dalton McGuinty.
"Families are saying 'You've got to give us a hand,"' said McGuinty.
"'We're prepared to invest in an electricity system for the next 20 years, but when we buy a home, we like to spread out the payments as much as we can,' ... and that's what this is all about really."
The New Democrats, who fought to have the HST removed from hydro bills, says the energy rebates are about helping the Liberals get re-elected next October.
"Certainly the government did create some opportunity for themselves, but I think it's a good thing that the government's finally been forced to pay attention to the fact people are having a difficult time making ends meet, and that skyrocketing hydro bills are a real issue out there," said NDP Leader Andrea Horwath.
Hydro One and Toronto Hydro customers will see the rebates on the first bill of the new year. Other local distribution companies may have to wait until later billing cycles in the spring, but the rebates will be retroactive to Jan. 1.
Welfare and social disability rules are being changed to exempt the 10 per cent electricity rebates as additional income so the money isn't clawed back from recipients.
There will also be a 0.5 per cent increase in disability benefits for injured workers Jan. 1, and another 0.5 per cent Jan. 1, 2012.
The Opposition is fuming at increases in premiums charged by the Workplace Safety and Insurance Board, calling them "a job-killing payroll tax hike." The increases, which range from nine to 20 per cent, kick in Jan. 1.
The Liberal government "is looking to pass the cost of waste and mismanagement (at WSIB) on to Ontario businesses," complained Progressive Conservative critic Steve Clark.
"It's clear at a time of record high unemployment, Ontario businesses can't afford yet another payroll tax hike," added Clark.
There will also be increases courtesy of the federal government in employment insurance premiums and Canada Pension Plan thresholds Jan. 1. The Canadian Taxpayers Federation says those changes will mean an extra $76 in taxes for any worker earning more than $44,200 and an additional $110 in payroll taxes for their employer.
The taxpayers' lobby group looked at new rules and regulations across the country and found the average family can expect to pay about two per cent more in taxes in 2011, but the average Ontario family will pay more than double that.
"Without a doubt, Ontarians are the biggest losers when it comes to tax changes on Jan. 1, with an average 4.3 per cent increase in the scenarios we examined," said the group's spokesman Derek Fildebrandt.
There are dozens of new regulations or changes that take effect Saturday, including new rules to make it easier for early childhood educators and archeologists trained in other provinces to become qualified to work in Ontario.
There are new regulations governing propane storage and transfer facilities, a ban on the refilling of portable fire extinguishers and new protections for firefighters from exposure to asbestos on the job.
Meat plants will only have to renew their licence every three years instead of annually starting in 2011, but the government says that won't compromise food safety because the frequency of inspections will not change.
Perhaps the biggest regulatory changes, certainly from a sports fan's point of view, are new regulations to establish the licensing and fight rules for professional mixed martial arts bouts in Ontario.
Ontario's Athletics Control Act will be updated to incorporate the so-called New Jersey rules for MMA fights, formally lifting a ban on the sport in a province where it enjoys huge popularity.