TORONTO - Ontario's smart meter program needs to be scrapped, the Opposition demanded Wednesday after Premier Dalton McGuinty refused to rule out a price increase for electricity during peak demand hours.

After saying Tuesday that off-peak electricity rates should be lowered to convince people to change their habits to take advantage of time-of-use pricing, McGuinty wouldn't say Wednesday if that could mean a rise in rates at peak demand times.

"I'm not going to get into that because I’m not the expert, but what I can say is that we’ve got to make sure the differential between peak and off-peak is significant, so significant that it motivates people," said McGuinty.

"We’ve got to make sure people understand the opportunities there, the options available to them."

The New Democrats said McGuinty's comments have them worried about an increase in the peak rate for hydro, which is already nearly double what Ontario residents used to pay for power 24 hours a day.

"It’s quite disconcerting that the premier dodged that question," said NDP Leader Andrea Horwath.

"I really don’t want to see the government making more decisions that make life less affordable for folks."

The Opposition accused McGuinty of forcing people to dramatically alter their behaviour in order to get the lowest electricity rates, and said consumers should be able to opt out of the smart meter program.

"Who’s looking out for the senior citizen who is being lectured by Dalton McGuinty to do her laundry at two in the morning? Who’s looking out for the family with multiple kids who’s being told by Dalton McGuinty to get them showered and ready for school at five or six in the morning?" asked Progressive Conservative Leader Tim Hudak.

"I think people deserve a choice whether they want to engage in using smart meters or not."

The government has spent about $1.5 billion to install 4.1 million smart meters in homes, with a goal of 4.4 million, but the cost of the meters is added to electricity bills, which were already on the rise because of the HST and green energy charges.

A survey by Toronto Hydro showed about 80 per cent of people using smart meters are seeing increases, not decreases on their bills.

Hudak said the program should be halted immediately because it's not helping lower hydro bills or convincing consumers to switch their heavy electricity use to late at night.

"Dalton McGuinty’s smart meters have been nothing but a tax machine to take more money out of people’s pockets," he said.

"This project has gone dangerously off the rails."

Hudak's plan "would return Ontario to the days of weak, unreliable and dirty power," said Energy Minister Brad Duguid.

"That’s the way the system was that we inherited from him, when he was in (the Conservative) cabinet, and that’s why we’ve worked so hard over the last six years to ... build up our system so we’ve got the power and reliability in it that Ontario families can count on."

The smart meters will help consumers keep a lid on rising hydro bills, but won't mean lower electricity bills.

"Smart meters are one factor that will help consumers mitigate some of the increases, but smart meters are not meant to be the panacea that’s going to provide consumers with the ability to completely avoid all potential increases down the road," added Duguid.

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