At 6 p.m. Monday, the province was using 18,150 megawatts of electricity, a little more than two-thirds of the available power.

Normal demand for that same time period is usually between 22,000 and 24,000 megawatts -- evidence that people are following through on the province's plea for conservation.

The Blackout of 2003. How very official sounding. Ominous. Potent. In reality, it was a 6 hour blown fuse. An unscheduled indoor camping trip. At my house it was Easter, with batteries replacing the eggs as the object of the hunt. It wasn't a big traumatic event, but it has given me a strange feeling. An anxiety that I felt back in 2001.

Politics. The older I get, the more it seems like politics, and politicians, are the remnants of the group in high school that never figured out popularity is not the ultimate station in life. You know (or maybe were) the kid who was so desperate to have the newest fashion first, to throw the biggest parties, to drive the fastest car. The one that did everything right, but stank of desperation. The middle of the pack type social climber. I think they all end up in politics. The reason I mention my erstwhile rulers is that they have a heavy hand in turning out the lights.

A little background first, my Ameri-centric friends: Ontario, the province in the middle of the country over the Great Lakes, is the most populous in Canada. Toronto is the biggest city in Canada, and a major power user. 25 or so years ago, Ontario and our neighbor, Quebec, faced some long-term planning: What will be used to produce power our growing populations? Quebec opted for hydroelectric power, and in the far north of the province they entered negotiations with Native bands. The talks bogged down, and it seemed that the plan was ill advised. Ontario, seeking to avoid land settlement headaches, turned heavily nuclear, increasing the small number of CANDU reactors in the province. About 19 years ago, Ontario had a New Democratic Party (NDP) Premier - think governor. The NDP are very socialist, and very left leaning. Unions vote NDP with a religious fervor. The problem with the NDP was and is that they spend on social programs like tomorrow will never come. They also slammed corporate business with tax after tax. Lastly, they gave environmentalists carte blanche for delaying industrial construction. Hydro Generating station? Not in my province cried the hippy. So, the NDP runs up a giant deficit and chases business out of the province. Enter the Progressive Conservatives. The PC party sweeps the next election and Mike "the Knife" Harris, takes the premiership. The PCs are the anti-NDP. They cut social programs drastically, kill the deficit and start privatizing public owned businesses. Popular at the beginning of their term, the deep cuts bleed out education and health care, along with support for the PCs. So, for 10 years or so, the lumbering process of privatizing Hydro Ontario lagged on. First it was split in two, Ontario Power Generation producing the power and Hydro One maintaining delivery to the public. During this time, no new generating stations were built. Also during this time, existing nuclear power stations at Pickering, Darlington and Bruce Peninsula reached the critical repair age and slowly were brought off line for repairs. Back in Quebec, they are sitting pretty, sending a surplus down into the States from the hydroelectric dam complexes in James Bay. The PC Government had brought heavy industry back to southern Ontario, and the population and construction boom in Toronto built more and more power consumers into a constricting market. The solution was to import power from the United States, particularly New York, via Niagara Falls, and Quebec, via Cornwall in the 401 corridor.

Premier Harris stepped down during the last PC mandate, handing the reigns of the party to Ernie Eves, finance minister in the Harris cabinet. Poor Ernie has been having a hard time. First, all the problems of the Harris administration have come home to roost. Cuts to health care likely contributed to the SARS crisis in Toronto, which devastated tourism in the city. The power crisis loomed so large last summer that Ernie capped electricity prices at an abnormally low level, well below the actual generation costs, in response to the fine line the suppliers were treading. The demand had pushed prices up to 7 times the regular rate during the hot days of last summer. Things seemed grim as early as this winter, when heating demands, traditionally lower than air conditioning demands, caused brownouts in Toronto. The provincial demand outstripped the supply, and the import solution was wearing thin. There is only so much power for sale out in the market.

Cut to this summer. The media has been screaming about the power problems in Toronto. Brownouts grew common. Government commercials promoting conservation began airing, thinly veiled as environmental activism, something the corporate friendly PCs have had little interest in in the past. August brings hot humid weather to the Golden Horseshoe and external suppliers choke on the order. The likely reason the blackout cascaded across the province was that transmission lines were wide open across the US-Canada border. No islands means no protection. The second the Ohio generator dropped off the grid, the demand from New York City, Albany, Boston, Toronto, Windsor, Detroit and Ottawa jumped to the next station. Pop! Next. Pop! Cascade blackout.

What makes me sick is that this is all out of our hands and firmly in the realm of politics. New generation needs to be constructed in Ontario. New generation and transmission needs to be constructed in the northeastern States according to President Bush. What can the common voting person do about it? Nothing substantial until maybe the next election. Will the problem go away? No, but it will be hoisted onto our shoulders. Using electricity in my own home has become a craps game. Could I be the one that blows the province out for another week? I don't want that hanging over my head every time I turn on the kitchen light. I figure Ernie has lost himself a premiership, but its little comfort to me as the ice-cream pools around my ankles.