Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Manitobans fare best in price of utility package

National audit looks at electricity, natural gas, auto insurance costs

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Quebec has the cheapest electricity and Saskatchewan has the lowest natural gas and auto insurance rates in the land, but Manitoba remains the place where consumers get the best average deal on all three.

The province will release the results today of an independent audit of utility costs required each year under Manitoba law. The report was prepared by Deloitte LLP, an audit, consulting and financial advisory firm.

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Combined electricity, natural gas and auto insurance costs by province*

Manitoba $2,813

Quebec $3,408

Saskatchewan $3,420

British Columbia $3,593

Alberta $5,226

New Brunswick $5,536

Newfoundland $5,757

Nova Scotia $5,990

Prince Edward Island $6,115

Ontario $7,878

Canadian average $4,974

Source: Report prepared by Deloitte LLP for the Manitoba government

*Report uses weighted average costs for two sample centres, one rural and one urban, in each province.

The audit found on average, Manitobans pay $873 per year for electricity, compared with a Canadian average of $1,385 -- for the year ended March 31. Quebecers ($763) paid the lowest rates, while Albertans ($1,877) paid the most.

When it came to annual natural gas costs for home heating, Manitobans shelled out $787, compared with a national average of $1,544. Saskatchewanians got the best deal ($752), while residents of Prince Edward Island paid the most ($2,598).

There were also wide differences in auto insurance rates across the country. Manitobans paid a weighted average (taking in various coverage and driver profiles) of $1,153 compared with a national average of $2,045. Saskatchewanians paid the least to insure their wheels ($1,101), while Ontarians shelled out the most ($5,503).

It was the third straight year Manitoba scored the lowest combined rates for this bundle of utilities and services.

Former finance minister Stan Struthers, who introduced the legislation requiring the annual audit, said Tuesday the government intends to maintain its cost advantage over the other provinces in the future.

"That was our commitment and we're going to make decisions to make sure that we come through on that commitment each and every year," Struthers said.

The $2,813 Manitobans spent on average for Autopac, hydro and natural gas in 2013-2014, compares with $2,815 in 2011-2012 and $2,731 in 2012-2013.

Mike Brown, a spokesman for the Progressive Conservative caucus, said Manitoba may fare well in these selected costs areas, but when it comes to overall affordability the utility and car insurance gains are more than offset by higher provincial taxes -- especially when Manitoba is compared with its western neighbours.

"It's a bit of a smoke screen as far as we're concerned," Brown said. "When you put taxes into the mix, it's not a deal anymore."

larry.kusch@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition July 2, 2014 A5

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