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Experience Tells Us Carbon Tax and Rate Hikes Will Take Victims

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by Graham Lane

Published in the Winnipeg Sun, December 1, 2017

Too many elderly and health-compromised Manitobans will die or become seriously ill if electricity and natural gas bills soar. If Hydro and Brian Pallister have recognized the potential for negative health outcomes, given that the combination of sharper higher electricity rates and Pallister’s tax on carbon dioxide goes ahead, they haven’t publicly said so.

Documents filed by Hydro with the Public Utilities Board (PUB) acknowledge that sharp rate hikes will bring about decreased household electricity and gas consumption. Lower demand means less revenue, therefore Hydro would eventually require even higher prices to cover costs.

Pallister needs to understand the risks and consequences of sharp utility rate hikes concurrent with his new carbon tax. Reducing householders’ disposable income is one thing, damaging people’s health is another.

Pallister is fixated on making Hydro ratepayers pay for the government-enabled electricity boondoggle while bringing in his carbon tax. Perversely, his new tax and massive electricity rate hikes would help him meet his pre-election pledge to cut the PST. Trouble is, low-income families might be “rewarded” with illness and premature deaths.

His carbon dioxide tax and hydro rate increases, combined with his version of austerity, allows him to think the province’s summary budget deficit can be brought under control. A 7.9% electricity rate jump in both 2018 and 2019 would provide $240 million annually for his government’s summary accounts by 2020. Add to that $260 million a year from the carbon tax and he has a $500 million contribution to his summary budget for the year of the next election.

While Pallister focuses on his re-election prospects, he fails to take into account the long-term impact on the province’s people and economy. Studies show that poorer households turn down their thermostats to save money, leading to illnesses and deaths. And, as to reducing “emissions,” those dependent upon natural gas will not move to electric heating. Heating electrically will still cost more than natural gas heating. For those who have spent $5,000 for high-efficiency natural gas furnaces, few will switch.

The rising cost of electricity and natural gas from Manitoba Hydro’s combined monthly bills can be expected to encourage lower-income families to turn down their thermostats. Manitoba has an extreme winter climate and temperatures below minus 30 degrees Celsius occur and can linger.

Reduced disposable incomes and high utility bills will — particularly as the bills mount through 2024 and beyond — accompany increased illness, higher health budgets, productivity reductions, and premature deaths. The cause of those deaths won’t officially be recorded as “turning down thermostat to save on the utility bill,” but will be the reality anyway.

Check out experiences in other countries suffering from high utility bills, such as the United Kingdom. For the four winter seasons ending 2015, the U.K.’s National Pensioners Convention (NPC) reported that 120,000 seniors died in England and Wales from cold residences and illnesses arising from it. NPC charges the British government with ignoring the record and “hoping for the best.”

Should Pallister proceed with his green delusions of massive electricity rate hikes and his “sock it to the economy” carbon dioxide tax given the risk to life, health and the economy? I think not.

Another political party may not either.

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