WINNIPEG - Plans for Manitoba Hydro rates to receive increased legislative oversight have been delayed again, as the province’s opposition party calls for an emergency meeting with the Public Utilities Board to stop efforts to reform the crown corporation.
The provincial NDP is protesting the introduction of the Public Utilities Ratepayer Protection Reform Act, with leader Wab Kinew saying during debate on the bill’s second reading that the suggestion of the provincial cabinet having control over rates calls for another investigation into Manitoba Hydro activities.
Kinew says he wants Manitoba Hydro to submit a general rate application to the Public Utilities Board so that they can look at what cabinet has been instructing the crown corporation regarding collective bargaining.
IBEW members who are Hydro workers are currently on strike following a rejection by the union of wages proposed by Hydro at the direction of the province. While an Economic Review into Hydro’s $3.7 billion in overruns released in late February recommends that the province take action to strengthen the crown corporation, the NDP says several recent steps taken by the province could cause further damage to the utility.
The last general rate application made by Manitoba Hydro was submitted in November 2018, and while the PUB had expected to receive another in autumn 2019, Hydro didn’t submit one - so the provincial parliament defined how much hydro rates went up instead.
The Crown Corporations Governance and Accountability Act gives citizens the option to appeal to the PUB regarding Hydro activities and rates. Pallister says the bill will make the Public Utilities Board stronger by broadening its reach to include major infrastructure projects when it sets electricity rates.
But critics say legislation needs to mandate that the public will have enough access to information about how Hydro is doing, what it’s up to, and how its activities are impacting the fees they pay. February’s Economic Review of the utility called for Hydro to stay a crown corporation, while recommending increased oversight that would bring more reporting to ratepayers and a renewed focus on strengthening the province’s economy.