Preamble: The Public Utilities Board (PUB) has regulatory authority over Manitoba Hydro rates, and for other entities over which it has jurisdiction. 

The PUB has been increasingly indicating to Manitoba Hydro that they should be/will be required to provide support to low income customers by way of lower electricity rates. The source of this support would be the other electricity users in Manitoba, in the form of higher rates. 

The Manitoba Hydro Act notes that, “The rates charged for power supplied to a class of grid customers within the province shall be the same throughout the province”. It effectively indicates that lower rates for electricity should not be based on personal circumstances of the customer.

Section 2 of the Manitoba Hydro Act puts the Act squarely within the cost of service approach mentioning only “economy and efficiency” as a legislative goal. Thus, the PUB intention of requiring electricity rates to be based on the personal circumstances for low income customers is beyond the authority of the Manitoba Hydro Act, and is likely contrary to the intent of the that legislation. 

The term “low income” has many interpretations. Different jurisdictions have different interpretations. Poverty organizations and governments have a variety of definitions and standards. 

The Manitoba Government provides support for low income citizens through its existing social and community support programs. The Government has indicated that there is a lack of coordination between the PUB intentions to provide low income support, and the Government’s low income support programs. 

The Manitoba Chambers of Commerce (MCC) has been involved for many years with a wide variety of poverty organizations. During this time the MCC has found that the area of poverty, its language, the myriad of programs and the interpretation of who is low income; is complex and confusing, even to those with daily involvement. 

Manitoba Hydro does not have the expertise or experience, much less a mandate or authority, to have involvement in this complex area of social policy. 

Resolution: That the Government of Manitoba revise the Public Utilities Board Act to state that any PUB ruling relating to an entity must be consistent with the Act that governs that entity.

Resolution Report:  

The Manitoba Chambers of Commerce produces Resolution reports as part of its commitment to be accountable to its members. The reports are updated as matters unfold and have two components:

MCC Advocacy: Specific activities the MCC has done to help make this Resolution a reality. 

Developments:  All other information (e.g. government action, media coverage, reports) that relates to Resolution. 

Advice, comments, and information sharing are welcome; simply enter a reply at the bottom of this post.

MCC Advocacy: 

May 15, 2011: The 2011-2012 Resolutions were posted on the MCC website, listed as part of a comprehensive Report on AGM 2011 and then notice of this story was circulated through a news release as well as in an MCC E-Update which is sent to all MCC members, Media and Government.

June 22, 2011: Resolution books were sent to every MLA and every Member of Parliament that hails from Manitoba. The following had this Resolution specifically drawn to their attention with a detailed letter setting out the background to this issue, Government initiatives (where applicable), and an argument for the Resolution:

  • The Premier
  • The Minister charged with the administration of The Manitoba Hydro Act
  • The Minister of Family Services and Consumer Affairs

Developments:

July 27, 2011:  The Honourable Rosann Wowchuk, Minister of Finance, wrote to the Manitoba Chambers of Commerce on this issue.

Here is her response:

The Honourable Rosann Wowchuk

Finally, I would like to respond to your comments regarding the resolution pertaining to the Public Utilities Board (PUB). As discussed at our February 14, 2011 meeting, this government has consistently supported the provision of affordable energy by Manitoba Hydro. As you are aware, this government legislated that there be a single uniform rate across Manitoba for all residential customers and Manitobans continue to enjoy the lowest overall rates in North America. 

We are also supportive of the considerable progress made in assisting Manitobans on low incomes improve the energy efficiency of their homes and permanently reduce their energy bills. An example of such a program is Manitoba Hydro’s lower income energy efficiency program, which is freeing up energy for export and helping to create jobs and training opportunities in the inner city. It is also important to note that the PUB hearing is an independent rate setting process and that the PUB has not made a determination on this matter.  

September 7, 2011:  Honourable Gord Mackintosh, Minister of Family Services and Consumer Affairs, wrote to the Manitoba Chambers of Commerce on this issue.

Here is his response:  

Gord Mackintosh

I understand that the Public Utilities Board recently concluded a hearing on Hydro rates and that the MCC presented its views at the hearing. As the matter is still under consideration by the Public Utilities Board, it is not appropriate for me to comment. 

Through the Employment and Income Assistance program, government provides financial support, including the actual cost of utilities, to Manitobans who have no other way to support themselves or their families. The Employment and Income Assistance Act and Regulations define eligibility criteria and identify the financial supports available for participants. The Manitoba government remains committed to supporting low-income citizens through our ALL Aboard initiative and to continuing to work with community partners, such as the MCC, to reduce poverty and increase social inclusion in Manitoba.

October 3, 2011: The Honourable Greg Selinger was specifically asked about this issue during his edition of the Manitoba Chambers Leaders Series. Here is a video of his answer: