Ontario Scraps Energy Conservation Directorship

TORONTO, ON -- - On a day when Premier Ernie Eves and other public officials pleaded with Ontarians to use less electricity to prevent blackouts, the government seemed to be scrapping its newly created position of energy conservation director.

Critics said the decision, apparently made for budgetary reasons, shows the Conservative government doesn't care much about getting people to cut their demand for power. "They're preaching conservation because they want to get the lights back on and the system stable," said Marion Fraser, a conservation expert with an international reputation, who applied for the job but was told Monday morning it would not be filled.

"Once we're back on and the system is stable . . . they think there won't be a big problem, they can go back selling as much power as they can.

"

In the aftermath of last week's massive blackout, Eves has been persistent in his message that unless consumers drastically curtail normal electricity usage, the province will experience blackouts.

Fraser said she received a phone call from the government early Monday morning telling her that the advertised position for director of energy conservation and energy had been axed.

Fraser, one of at least three applicants for the job which she expected would pay between $80,000 and $100,000 a year, applied in May and was interviewed just last month.

At that point, they were still clearly interested in hiring someone, she said.

She said Judy Hubert, an assistant deputy energy minister, told her during Monday's phone call that "because of financial constraints, the position had been cancelled."

Eves said Ontario Energy Minister John Baird had been unaware of what Hubert had done.

"He is not happy with the decision that has been taken and he's dealing with it," said Eves without elaborating.

Baird told reporters late Monday that the position would be filled.

Finance Minister Janet Ecker has said the government must find more than $800 million in savings to balance the province's books given the economic impact of SARS.

Critics have argued the government is in fact running a deficit due to its policies of tax cuts and a pre-election spending spree.

Many experts have argued Ontario should address its chronic electricity shortage with an aggressive conservation and energy-efficiency campaign rather than focusing on new generating capacity.

But Fraser said Steve Gilchrist, the province's alternative energy commissioner, told her the government doesn't really want consumers to use less power, simply to use it at off-peak times.

That's because part of each electricity bill goes toward the massive debt run up by the old Ontario Hydro.

"The government is interested in the spin of energy conservation and efficiency," said New Democrat Leader Howard Hampton.

"The fact that they cancelled the director of energy conservation position in the civil service says to me they're not serious at all."



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