Heather Stefanson’s PC government shouldn’t pursue Bill 36. In the words of Dennis Woodford, President of Electranix Corporation, a successful international engineering consultancy, Bill 36 would neuter the Public Utilities Board, leaving Manitoba Hydro’s rate settings to the government.

And, just as Woodford noted before the legislative committee reviewing pending legislation, with the PC party having a strong majority of MLAs on the committee and in the legislature, the bill will pass, despite it being a conflict of interest. The only “winner” may be the PC party, but whether it ups their chance to win in the next election is questionable. Whether the PCs or the NDP wins, Manitoba’s economy and Hydro’s ratepayers would already have lost.

Bill 36 doesn’t let PUB call hearings. The public are used to hearings involving the utility and their customers — residential, business, industry, First Nations, etc. Bill 36 would bar PUB from setting rates, not even examining the utility’s case for its rate setting. Bill 36 would fully leash PUB, leaving the government in complete control of the largest Crown enterprise. Bill 36 would also restrict Hydro from making recommendations about its capital expenditures. In other words, at least on paper, the politicians would be “running” things.

After the commissioning of Manitoba Hydro Limestone Generating Station in 1990, Limestone, with an annual generation (GWh) of 1,350, still ranks as the 18th largest electrical generating facility in Canada (though dwarfed by the generation from Ontario’s Bruce Nuclear (6,430 GWh) and Quebec’s Robert-Bourassa hydro generating station (5,616 GWh).

With Limestone — and the later amalgamation of Manitoba Hydro and Winnipeg Hydro — Manitoba ratepayers could look forward to a sound utility looking after its ratepayers/customers. Manitoba Hydro was thought of as “Manitoba’s oil.” Twenty-plus years later, talk of “Manitoba’s oil” is gone. And, the actions of the two provincial parties recklessly borrowing $15 billion to build very expensive new capacity — PC and NDP — have damaged not only the utility but the province.

Manitoba Hydro’s Limestone project cost $1.43 billion for 1,350 GWh; Wuskwatim Generating Station was finished in 2012 at a cost of $1.3 billion (almost the cost for Limestone) for only 211 GWh and Keeyask cost $9 billion for 688 GWh (6.3 times the cost of Limestone for 51% of its generation).

For both Wuskwatim and Keeyask, Manitoba Hydro provided First Nations a share in the ownership, with revenue and cost distributions very favourable to those partners.

As for Bipole 3, the cost came in at $5 billion, at least twice its initial estimates.

Manitoba’s main political parties, the NDP and the PC, share the good results for Manitoba Hydro’s customers up to Limestone, but they both shoulder responsibility for the questionable results since — far from the estimates they both “ran on” (as to Wuskwatim, Keeyask and Bipole 3).

As Woodford said at his presentation at the Bill 36 hearing, the PC government has a glaring conflict of interest: “this is (like) having a poacher being the gamekeeper.”

While Manitoba Hydro’s customers are being made to pay higher and higher electricity bills, soon without even the safety valve of a mandatory Manitoba Hydro hearing before PUB. Meanwhile, an arcane backdoor taxing model sees the PC government reaping $600 million a year.

Perhaps the PC party has hatched Bill 36 as a (silly) attempt to develop a poison pill for if the NDP win in 2023. They should think again.

— Graham Lane, a retired CPA CA, was PUB’s chair (2004-12), following a career as an executive in the public and private sectors