Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Selinger pledges to keep Hydro, Autopac cheapest

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PREMIER Greg Selinger guaranteed Wednesday that Manitobans would continue to pay the lowest combined bill in Canada for electricity, home heating and auto insurance.

Or they'll receive a cheque in the mail from the offending utility.

Selinger said to back up his commitment, he would hire an independent accounting firm to do an annual tally to ensure Manitoba's costs were the lowest in the country. He would also ensure Manitoba Crown corporations established special rate-stabilization reserve funds to ensure consumer costs remained low.

"One of the key things that Manitobans have told us is that they want us to preserve our affordability advantage," the premier said Wednesday.

The pledge was a way of underscoring Selinger's view that Crown corporations such as Manitoba Hydro and Manitoba Public Insurance are a good deal for Manitobans, while exploiting the notion -- fairly or unfairly -- that the Progressive Conservatives might sell them off.

Selinger told reporters to check out Tory star candidate Gord Steeves' musings about privatizing auto insurance (a clip of a Shaw interview has been posted to YouTube). He also accused party leader Hugh McFadyen of wanting to raise the rates Manitobans pay for electricity to market rates.

On Wednesday, a PC staffer responded: "Hugh has been very clear. We will not privatize any Crown corporations." As for Hydro rates, he said: "We don't support market rates -- we support rates set at cost (the system we have now), overseen by the Public Utilities Board."

Selinger also vowed to pass a law limiting university tuition-fee increases to the rate of inflation for the next three years, while expanding the Manitoba Student Aid program to make post-secondary education more affordable.

Changes to the aid program would allow students to earn income during the school year without affecting their eligibility and reduce the interest rate on Manitoba student loans to the prime borrowing rate (a decrease of about 1.5 percentage points). Students would also be allowed to own vehicles without affecting their student aid eligibility. This would especially help rural students, Selinger said.

Manitoba Liberals accused the NDP of stealing their education ideas. "We'd give them part marks if it were not for the plagiarism," said Grit spokesman Paul Hesse, the Liberal candidate in Fort Rouge.

larry.kusch@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition September 8, 2011 A4

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