NDP looking to block bill party says diminishes utility board’s power

NDP members at the Manitoba Hydro building downtown standing in opposition to Bill 35. Michael Draven/Global News

The Manitoba NDP says their members will block a bill the party believes would diminish the utility board’s power and open the door for Manitoba Hydro to be broken up.

The NDP says it will invoke parliamentary power to delay Bill 35, The Public Utilities Ratepayer Protection and Regulatory Reform Act, and prevent it from being guaranteed passage by April 2021.

If the bill passes, electricity rates would be set by the government until March 31, 2024, after which point the Public Utilities Board would meet every five years, as opposed to annually, to approve rates based on anticipated revenue requirements.

This could then limit the PUB’s ability to factor in socioeconomic factors since the government would have the ability to establish policies the PUB has to follow when ruling on rate change proposals.

“We believe in cheap electricity bills for working families and we reject the idea government can have carte blanche to set rates without public input. That’s why we’re delaying this bill,” said NDP Leader Wab Kinew.

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Kinew and other members of the NDP as well as members of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers local 2034 stood in support together outside the Manitoba Hydro building on Portage Avenue on Sunday morning.

The union members are currently on strike after contract negotiations with Manitoba Hydro hit a standstill on Tuesday.

Click to play video: 'Crown Services minister says Bill 35 ensures Manitoba Hydro operations are ‘transparent’'
Crown Services minister says Bill 35 ensures Manitoba Hydro operations are ‘transparent’

The Public Utilities Board is a quasi-judicial organization that operates at arm’s length from both the government and its Crown corporations and provides oversight into capital expenditures and proposed rate changes, such as MPI or hydro rates.

Manitoba Premier Brian Pallister says Bill 35 will save taxpayers money by limiting how often the PUB meets.

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“If you or I were trying to run [Manitoba] Hydro, it’s pretty tough to make long-term decisions with short-term rate applications. So we need our Crown corporations to run with a long-term view, not just a crisis-to-crisis view,” Pallister told Global News in October.

Gas rates would be calculated based on a 10-year period, also based on anticipated revenues.

It would also mean MPI must apply for insurance rates annually, and the PUB would only be able to conduct more extensive reviews every five years, or more frequently with cabinet approval.

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