FORMER NDP premier Ed Schreyer blasted the current NDP government yesterday for its plan to force Manitoba Hydro to use its electricity exports to keep its natural gas rates unnaturally low.
Energy Minister Dave Chomiak, who yesterday said Schreyer is his best friend, introduced legislation Wednesday that prevents huge natural gas rate increases over the next two winters.
It also forces Hydro to establish a reserve fund using a percentage of its gross revenues from exporting electricity this year and next, and use that reserve fund to fund energy conservation programs and help make up the difference between what Hydro pays for natural gas and what it is allowed to charge its customers.
Schreyer, premier from 1969 until 1977, called that “the most retrograde step the government could possibly take.”
“It’s so wrong it’s perverse,” said Schreyer. Schreyer said it means a clean, renewable energy source is going to be used to subsidize a non-renewable, environmentally unfriendly fuel and it won’t encourage people to reduce their use of natural gas.
“It is emphatically wrong,” said Schreyer. “It is 180 degrees opposite to the long-term public interest.”
Chomiak said the bill gives him control of how extensive the subsidization is, and said it might not happen at all, depending on how much Hydro has in its financial reserves on the natural gas side.
“In philosophy we do not and will not cross-subsidize,” said Chomiak. “The minister involved, and that happens to be me, does not believe in it. We’ve legislated a limited ability because of a short-term, world-high price.”
Schreyer’s concerns were echoed by Peter Holle, president of the conservative Frontier Centre for Public Policy.
“The market is signalling that you need to change your behaviour because this is a more expensive more valuable scarcer resource,” said Holle. “By sheltering everybody it’s messing up that signal.”
Liberal Leader Jon Gerrard went a little bit further with his criticism.
“It shows the lengths the NDP are going in essence to almost buy votes,” Gerrard said. He said the fact that a former NDP premier is coming out to attack the legislation should be a wake-up call to the NDP.
— with files from Leah Janzen