Professor Paul Thomas is correct to raise the "wider implications for democracy" in his critique of the Pallister government’s decision to sideline the Public Utilities Board for the next five years when it comes to setting Manitoba Hydro rates. Rates will now be set by the provincial cabinet.
He is also bang-on when he states that this decision is indicative of the "government’s single-minded determination to eliminate deficits and reduce debt."
Debt/deficit hysteria is also behind the decision to spend $2 million to have former Saskatchewan premier Brad Wall study the capital costs of Hydro’s Keeyask and Bipole III projects. The study, being conducted in private, will, I am all but certain, provide Premier Brian Pallister with the talking points he desires going forward, regarding his views on the former NDP government’s spending record.
Wall has no engineering background, and comes from a province that relies on fossil fuels (coal and coke, 40 per cent; and natural gas, 43 per cent) for more than 80 per cent of its energy mix. Manitoba’s electricity is 97 per cent clean, renewable hydroelectricity, and our province long ago opted to phase out the use of coal.
In terms of cost overruns on capital projects, here again Wall has nothing to teach Manitobans. His government’s Regina Bypass mega-project was budgeted at $400 million and came in at $1.8 billion, and was a huge controversy in Saskatchewan.
Constant political meddling in Manitoba Hydro seems to be the order of the day. Thomas and others are correct in their stated concerns with this approach to governance of our province’s flagship Crown corporation.