It wasn’t that long ago that everybody was criticizing Rana Bokhari and the Manitoba Liberal Party for a lack of substance in their platform. Rana’s performance was called “underwhelming” and specific policy ideas had been slow in coming. ‘Just wait’ Rana said to the skeptics, ‘the policies are on their way’.
Well, true to her word, a slew of commitments came, and with it came a lurch past the governing NDP in the polls (assisted no doubt by the resurgence of their Federal counterparts). The Liberals now have the most extensive list of promises of any of the provincial parties, all documented conveniently on a single web page – Our Policies.
Some are big, some are small, and some have rather alarming names (DRAIN LAKE MANITOBA). A lot of bases are covered, but there is, in my opinion, one big hole in their list.
Absent from their list is any policy regarding Manitoba Hydro. Why is this important? Because what Hydro does impacts everybody in the province — through the jobs it creates, the service it provides, the bills people pay, and the public debt it accumulates. Hydro is an important economic driver in the province, but it could also be a huge economic liability if not managed properly.
To be fair, none of the other parties have anything on their web sites regarding Manitoba Hydro either.
You might excuse the PCs for avoiding the topic, as the governing NDP has used Hydro to batter the PCs in the past with fears of job losses and privatization — but I will not excuse it. They should explain their strategy, even though we already know a little bit about what they think from previous elections and their long history jabbing with the government.
By contrast, the Liberals are very much an unknown. They are a rebuilding party under a new leader who has ideas I am quite sure the old leader would not have proposed, like privatizing liquor sales. Would they privatize Manitoba Hydro too? I very much doubt it, but I can’t say for sure because they don’t say one way or the other on their web site.
The NDP does not have a single policy of any kind on their party’s web site, like literally nothing, but we know very well what their policy is because they have been implementing it for a decade. It is to capitalize in the short term on increasing revenues from water rental fees, other financial spin offs and construction jobs, all while exporting electricity at a loss, piling up billions of dollars in debt and condemning future rate payers to increasing electricity fees.
From the tone of that last sentence, you can probably guess what I think of the government’s direction, which is why I would like to know what the Liberals have planned. They have a new leader and a new direction, but do they have new ideas about Hydro?
If they are in need of ideas, I’ll give them a few:
- Immediately stop construction of BiPole III. It is a myth that the chosen west-side route for BiPole III protects the environment. In fact it is much more damaging, environmentally, while also providing less energy security than the originally proposed east-side route, and costing billions more.
Much time and money has already been invested in this disaster, but construction has only just begun and the damage can still be mitigated by stopping construction and considering the alternatives.
- Review the planned construction of Keeyask and Conawapa. Does the energy export market and our future energy requirements require this level of investment? There was a “Need For And Alternatives To” review in 2013 that the NDP claimed supported its direction, but the scope of the report was severely restricted and valid concerns were dismissed.
In the past year, Hydro has added on $1.4 billion to its long term debt, and despite increased revenues from higher electricity fees, a loss of $30 million was posted for electricity operations in the most recent quarter primarily because of financing on debt. This is a very slippery financial path that they are on, and it will only get steeper if they continue along it. (source)
- Incentivize energy savings through electricity rates. Hydro’s ‘Demand Side Management’ plan so far has had minimal impact on a population of electricity gluttons. Give people real incentive to save by changing the rate structure: Low base rates to keep energy cheap for modest residential users and high incremental rate to encourage energy efficiency. When a say “high” I mean at least twice the base rate. The bigger the difference the greater the incentive.
What I have in mind is something like $0.04 / kWh on the first 350 kWh of usage — such that the owner of an efficient smaller home would pay much less than they are paying now — and $0.10 /kWh (about what it costs to generate new electricity) on anything beyond that.
A sustainable energy plan has to include improvements in conservation, and saving electricity will help to save us (or defer) outrageously expensive new hydro dam construction.
Manitoba Hydro may not be a top election issue, but I know I’m not the only one who has serious concerns about the direction of the crown corporation. One of Manitoba’s greatest assets is also one of its most mismanaged. The Liberal Party of Manitoba is in a position to insert this issue into the conversation leading up to the spring election. Rana Bokhari needs to establish their position on Hydro, and I hope it’s a sensible one.