Bill 36, which is set to pass this fall, introduces changes that say electricity rates cannot exceed 5% or the rate of inflation, whichever is less. The increase would stay over a three-year period and would come into effect after March 31, 2025, if the bill receives royal assent come the fall.
Currently, the Public Utilities Board (PUB), with input from public hearings and experts approves hydro rates.
A recent survey done by Probe Research, which was commissioned by the Manitoba Consumers’ Coalition, says that only 5% of Manitobans say politicians should have the authority to set things like hydro rates.
The survey included 1,017 Manitoban adults between May 25 and June 5 and included an oversample of 121 lower-income households.
A similar Probe Research poll done in September 2020 found that 52% of Manitobans prefer to have an independent board or commission with the power to set rates.
The Consumers’ Coalition, which includes Harvest Manitoba, The Consumers’ Association of Canada (Manitoba) and the Aboriginal Council of Winnipeg, says that the bill undermines the independence of the PUB and gives rate-setting authority to cabinet. The coalition is represented by the Public Interest Law Centre of Legal Aid Manitoba.
Peggy Barker, a Manitoba board member of the Consumers’ Association of Canada said in a news release that Manitobans are not in favour of rate setting being in the hands of politicians and are asking Premier Heather Stefanson and all other MLAs to kill the proposed bill.
“It is not in the best interest of Manitobans and robs the public of a fair, transparent and highly respected PUB process,” Barker said.
In an open letter to Stefanson as well as Finance Minister Cameron Friesen and every other MLA, the coalition says Bill 36 “hamstrings” Manitoba Hydro.
“On the one hand, it enshrines inflexible debt targets that Hydro must meet,” the letter reads. “And on the other, it limits what Hydro can charge customers to pay down its debts. This fiscal pretzel can come back to haunt Hydro customers. Manitobans may be forced to pay much more on Hydro bills down the road.
The Manitoba NDP delayed Bill 36 during the spring session.