Premier Brian Pallister hinted Tuesday his government may again raise hydro rates — bypassing the normal regulatory process — but the hit to Manitobans' pocketbooks will be lower than in past years.
At a press conference marking the end of the spring sitting of the legislature, Pallister provided few details about the potential rate hike, saying Finance Minister Scott Fielding will announce those details.
Last fall, the Progressive Conservative government legislated a 2.9 per cent increase in electricity rates that took effect in December. The government's rationale for skirting the Public Utilities Board was that it planned to institute a new multi-year PUB rate-setting process. Enabling legislation to carry that out is expected to be passed this fall.
"This interim rate will be lower than the average of the last number of years, but it needs to be established so that we can get to a rate establishment process more transparent, where PUB is stronger and where they’re able to make multi-year rate decisions," Pallister said.
Manitobans may not learn how much hydro rates are increasing until Fielding introduces his budget implementation bill this fall. Normally, the omnibus bill is introduced in the spring.
In this legislative session, 65 government bills have passed, including one that would lower Manitobans' education property taxes. The average Winnipeg homeowner stands to receive a $480 rebate this year.
"This session featured the most robust and, I think, ambitious legislative agenda very likely in decades," the premier said Tuesday.
However, much of the government's legislative agenda was obscured by the COVID-19 health crisis.
Passage of some of the PCs' most contentious bills — including its comprehensive education reforms — was delayed till fall by the NDP. Under the legislative assembly's rules, the Opposition can designate five bills each year to be carried over in this manner.
NDP Leader Wab Kinew said any hydro rate hike should be reviewed by the PUB.
"I’ve got a lot of concerns. We see the price of everything going up right now: the price of lumber, the price of furniture, the price of groceries, the price of gas. Now you’re trying to raise the hydro bill, too? Uh-uh. It’s bad for individual families and it’s bad for inflation, too," he said, reacting to the premier's comments.
Pallister, who was sworn into office in 2016 and re-elected in 2019, said the pandemic has presented challenges to his government on "an almost daily basis."
"It’s difficult to pinpoint a time in my life (where) there have been more major decisions to deliberate on, and to make, that have come on our team faster than during this pandemic," he said.
Pallister said he was "tremendously proud of Manitobans" for the way they've responded to the crisis.
"I mean, better than anybody for a lot of this pandemic, and worse than everybody for part of it as well. We’ve been peak and valley, right?"
Meanwhile, the premier, who turns 67 in July, deflected questions about his future, although, when pressed, said he would "definitely be back" when the legislature resumes sitting in early October.
There has been speculation Pallister may resign this fall, once the province's population is fully vaccinated and the worst of COVID-19 is behind Manitobans.
— with files from Carol Sanders
Larry Kusch didn’t know what he wanted to do with his life until he attended a high school newspaper editor’s workshop in Regina in the summer of 1969 and listened to a university student speak glowingly about the journalism program at Carleton University in Ottawa.