By Teresa Sarkesian
Since last year’s provincial election, the cost of electricity has remained a hot topic in Ontario. Soon after coming into power, the Ford government made several swift cuts aimed at improving affordability for families and industrial customers. With all of these moves, members of the Electricity Distributors Association (EDA) have, so far, remained unscathed. I believe our Power of Local Hydro campaign has been an important factor.
For more than 100 years, the EDA has been the voice of Ontario’s local hydro distribution companies (LDCs). These are the local utilities that deliver power to more than five million homes and businesses across our province. The EDA advocates for sound policy decisions and a favourable business environment for the LDC sector. Prior to Ontario’s last election, we were put to the test in this regard.
In recent years, EDA members saw the province’s escalating electricity rates become an increasingly sensitive topic. As the election approached, members worried they could find themselves in the political crosshairs, even though distribution rates were not the foundation of high electricity bills. The EDA heard members’ concerns and saw the provincial election as a critical opportunity to promote and protect the sector.
Our primary goal was to ensure that the election platforms of the three main political parties remained neutral to positive on the LDC sector throughout the campaign cycle. We also wanted to ensure the sector would be positioned positively long after the election. Thus, our Power of Local Hydro campaign was born.
Targeted to policymakers and the public, the EDA developed the Power of Local Hydro campaign to initiate positive discussions and favourable policies—before, during and after the election. The tone of the campaign was very positive, but it also included a rapid-response issue-neutralization strategy in case negative sector-related issues were to emerge.
We began leveraging our longstanding relationships, reaching out early to MPPs and candidates from all major parties well in advance of the election. Our aim was to secure the EDA’s credibility and to position LDCs as a vital resource in delivering affordable, reliable power.
We raised awareness through a series of low-cost, high-impact digital ads, geotargeted specifically to Queen’s Park during the campaign cycle. We followed up with an intensive series of pre-election meetings with MPPs and civil servants from all parties to discuss Power of Local Hydro policy priorities and to ensure LDC issues would be well positioned in new government briefing books.
As an industry association, the EDA traditionally had little connection to consumers. But we also saw an opportunity to raise awareness among public audiences.
Power of Local Hydro included a range of tactics to achieve broad reach and member engagement. A dedicated website housed our policy positions, member success stories and video content. We created downloadable materials members could use to take part in the campaign and to guide their discussions with local candidates.
Social media was a critical channel. Member stories and eye-catching Power of Local Hydro videos resulted in more than 675,000 views via Twitter, LinkedIn and YouTube. We drew further attention with ongoing web and social posts using #poweroflocalhydro to track discussions and activity.
Excitement about the campaign flourished among EDA members. Several incorporated campaign graphics and links into their websites. Many liked and shared Power of Local Hydro content on social. They continue to use #poweroflocalhydro and to contribute their stories on innovation, exceptional service and community involvement to poweroflocalhydro.ca.
Most important, the electricity distribution sector was not targeted by any major political party during the election campaign. This despite the fact that energy became the fourth most important issue for voters, behind healthcare, the economy and taxation.
Power of Local Hydro continues to play a role in our government, public and member outreach. The campaign helped build invaluable standing with the new government. And it is an important proof point to members of the power of their association.