British Columbians have been bracing themselves for a raft of hikes, fees, and cuts. We were preparing for increases in ICBC premiums, struggling with sky-high ferry fares, and trying to fathom the program cuts and the crass wheelchair fee in long-term care homes that have already appeared as a result of the 2013 Liberal budget.
But last week, a leaked document emerged that suggested British Columbians could be on the hook for an astounding 26 per cent increase in our hydro rates by 2016, adding a whopping $273 per year to the average residential customer’s bill.
Before the election call and on the campaign trail, the Liberals told British Columbians that they had electricity rates under control. Now we know they never did, and it is nearly impossible to believe that they had no knowledge of this looming rate crunch.
In the Westside-Kelowna by-election, Premier Christy Clark maintained that position, but was contradicted by Minister of Energy and Mines Bill Bennett, who admitted that rates would soon rise. Confronted with the discrepancy, Clark told reporters, “I can’t say if they will go up,” adding, “I just don’t know the answer to that.”
This Liberal pre-election hydro rate cover up is like the HST deception all over again.
While this day of reckoning is alarming and extremely disappointing, it is not surprising. For years, the Liberals have sidelined the independent experts at the B.C. Utilities Commission, and insisted on political interference at B.C. Hydro.
They intervened to push through $1 billion in spending for smart meters that will neither make nor save energy, and they have insisted that there is no debt crisis at the corporation, despite billions stashed in deferral accounts that future generations will have to contend with. Ironically, hiding even more debt in deferral accounts is one of the options floated to deal with the rate shock crisis.
The government also made sure rate hikes like the one we’re seeing now off the table until after the election.
In 2012, the government cancelled a B.C. Utilities Commission rate hearing and arbitrarily setting the rate increase at 1.4 per cent – an action that caused B.C. Hydro to defer yet more costs to future years.
But this government’s most disastrous interference has been tying up $50 billion in private power contracts, which continue to force the province to buy energy at high rates and sell it at a loss during peak periods.
Sadly, it took a leaked document to force the government to admit to British Columbians the true state of B.C. Hydro’s fiscal problems, and their cancellation of the legislature’s fall session will mean they will continue to avoid accountability for this and many other challenges facing the province.
With B.C. Hydro in chaos, the budget sliding towards a deficit, critical services being cut, and a jobs plan that, at its two-year mark, has netted a loss of 9,500 private-sector jobs, there is no shortage of work to be done.
We think British Columbians deserve a government that is accountable to British Columbians for its campaign promises and for its failure to manage energy in this province.
John Horgan, New Democrat energy critic and
MLA for Juan De Fuca.