An ill wind blows for Quebec taxpayers – by Sophie Cousineau (Globe and Mail – May 15, 2013)

Globe and Mail is Canada’s national newspaper with the second largest broadsheet circulation in the country. It has enormous influence on Canada’s political and business elite.

MONTREAL – Pity Pauline Marois. Her government has been making good on its promise to balance the books. Yet the business community, still unsettled by higher personal income taxes, a new mining regime and proposed changes to the language law, won’t give the Quebec Premier any credit for it, as she recently lamented in front of the Conseil du Patronat du Québec lobby group.

All the while, the left-wing Québec Solidaire party has been ferociously criticizing Ms. Marois and her government’s austerity measures. Listening to its articulate leaders, you could believe that Ms. Marois is a reincarnation of Margaret Thatcher. Attacked left and right, Ms. Marois’ popularity has been sinking to depths rarely seen for an eight-month-old government. Two polls recently conducted by Crop and Léger Marketing indicate that under Philippe Couillard’s new leadership, the Quebec Liberal Party is now well ahead of the Parti Québécois – despite the Liberals’ power-worn brand.

This explains why the PQ has shifted gears into good news mode, in the hopes of seducing its disillusioned supporters. In the past month, ministers have unveiled plans for a new hospital in the Charlevoix region and a number of hospital renovations and extensions across Quebec at an election-campaign pace.

Good news is no news, as some journalists say cynically. But with the new 800 megawatts of wind mill projects that Ms. Marois unveiled Friday in the Gaspé region, good news is bad news. That is, unless you happen to work for or own shares in one of the companies that manufacture wind turbines and parts in Quebec such as General Electric.

That clean power had been promised by former premier Jean Charest under an energy policy put forward in 2006, after the Liberals killed Hydro-Québec’s project for a new thermal plant in Beauharnois following massive protests over greenhouse gas emissions. In order to green Quebec’s energy production and the Liberals’ image, Mr. Charest promised that a 10th of the province’s electricity would come from wind power. This meant that Hydro-Québec would end up buying 4,000 MW of wind-powered electricity.

Only 700 MW of that electricity has still not been allocated, and many thought that the PQ wouldn’t go ahead with the Liberals’ original plan. There was good reason to think so.

Hydro-Québec is swimming in electricity surpluses. Just how big these surpluses are and how long this situation will last is a heated debate. The state-owned utility foresees surpluses until 2020, but some analysts expect they will last until 2027.

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