Politics

Vaughn Palmer: NDP joins earlier governments in feeding at B.C. Hydro trough

Opinion: Money-losing Crown corporation ordered to provide rebate as NDP eyes election

Get the latest from Vaughn Palmer straight to your inbox

Article content

VICTORIA — When a dropped memo from Energy Minister Josie Osborne ended up in Opposition hands last fall, the public learned that she and her advisers were thinking about “a big, shiny affordability measure” for the coming provincial budget.

Their notion of “returning a portion of the carbon tax back to the public in their monthly B.C. Hydro bills,” was translated into an electricity affordability credit in the three-year budget and fiscal plan released Thursday.

Advertisement 2

Article content

Article content

The credit will provide $100 relief for the average household on Hydro bills over a year, which doesn’t sound all that “big and shiny” when compared to the growing hit from the carbon tax.

To cite the example of natural gas bills, the portion accounted for by carbon tax exceeds the cost of the actual heating fuel by almost 50 per cent.

As the Osborne memo anticipated, B.C. Hydro is being ordered to fund the NDP’s election year giveaway at a cost of $370 million. It is the second time the Eby government has hit up the giant utility in this fashion, the last credit having cost Hydro $315 million.

Finance Minister Katrine Conroy insisted the cash grab was “affordable.”

But Hydro’s finances were squeezed in 2023 because it was forced by drought and other considerations to import about 20 per cent of its power from outside B.C.

In the Hydro accounts released on budget day, the utility was reported to have lost $55 million last year, a dramatic reversal on expectations for a $709 million surplus in operating revenues.

The accounts were brought into balance by siphoning money out of Hydro’s deferral accounts, something the New Democrats denounced when the B.C. Liberals practised it.

Article content

Advertisement 3

Article content

The New Democrats also used to deplore the practice of using Crown corporations as an ATM. But as they say in the premier’s office, “that was then, this is now.”

While the New Democrats are raiding the Hydro accounts in an election year, the utility itself has been forced to seek a 2.3 per cent rate hike.

The increase was approved earlier this month by the B.C. Utilities Commission. The commission was itself a target of a different kind of hit last fall, when the premier fired the CEO David Morton and replaced him with Mark Jaccard.

The electricity credit was one of the few headline-grabbing items in the budget along with $250 million to fund a one-time increase in B.C. family benefit payments.

After reporters in the budget lockup finished coming up with apt metaphors for the red ink in this year’s budget — tide, tsunami or atmospheric river — the next challenge was spelling out what the public was getting for all that additional debt.

The dearth of highlights raised speculation that the New Democrats are holding back some big, shiny objects for their election platform.

Most of the new spending for the financial year beginning April 1 will fund existing programs, thanks in large measure to increased staffing and utilization.

Advertisement 4

Article content

The New Democrats have presided over a 41 per cent increase in the size of the public service during their seven years in office. For the coming year alone, the bill for wages and benefits will be up 10 per cent, topping out at $4 billion for the first time thanks to the last round of contract settlements.

That is just for central government. Health Minister Adrian Dix boasts of having added almost 40,000 workers in the health care sector. The health budget announced Thursday is $33 billion, almost 60 per cent greater than before the pandemic.

Utilization is a major driver of the cost of health programs as well. Pharmacare is budgeted for a 14 per cent increase, with a budget approaching $2 billion annually.

Indeed, were Pharmacare a stand-alone ministry, it would be the sixth largest in government, exceeded only by the two education ministries, the two social service ministries and health itself.

A closer examination of the budget documents also disclosed some contradictions.

The federal government has boosted its contribution to child care in B.C. by $214 million to $1.036 billion, an increase of 26 per cent. The province is raising its share of child care funding to $865 million, an increase of only $38 million or less than five per cent.

Advertisement 5

Article content

As a result, Ottawa will be providing more funding support for child care in B.C. this year than does the provincial government that never stops boasting about its commitment to $10-a-day child care.

Given that faltering provincial commitment, it came as no surprise late last year when Statistics Canada reported that there were 10,000 fewer children in child care in B.C. in 2023 than in 2019.

The same survey found that 58 per cent of B.C. parents reported difficulty in lining up child care, up from 46 per cent four years earlier.

However, not every priority was starved for funds this week.

The New Democrats did manage to rustle up enough cash to raise the budget for government advertising by $3.5 million, an increase of 22 per cent. Big to be sure. But shiny only if you happen to be a New Democrat running for re-election.

[email protected]

Article content

Source

Related Articles

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Back to top button

SEO BACKLINK SEO BACKLINK SEO BACKLINK SEO BACKLINK SEO BACKLINK SEO BACKLINK SEO BACKLINK SEO BACKLINK SEO BACKLINK SEO BACKLINK SEO BACKLINK SEO BACKLINK SEO BACKLINK SEO BACKLINK SEO BACKLINK SEO BACKLINK SEO BACKLINK SEO BACKLINK SEO BACKLINK SEO BACKLINK SEO BACKLINK SEO BACKLINK SEO BACKLINK SEO BACKLINK SEO BACKLINK SEO BACKLINK SEO BACKLINK SEO BACKLINK SEO BACKLINK SEO BACKLINK SEO BACKLINK SEO BACKLINK SEO BACKLINK SEO BACKLINK SEO BACKLINK SEO BACKLINK SEO BACKLINK SEO BACKLINK SEO BACKLINK SEO BACKLINK SEO BACKLINK SEO BACKLINK SEO BACKLINK SEO BACKLINK SEO BACKLINK SEO BACKLINK SEO BACKLINK SEO BACKLINK SEO BACKLINK SEO BACKLINK SEO BACKLINK SEO BACKLINK SEO BACKLINK SEO BACKLINK SEO BACKLINK SEO BACKLINK SEO BACKLINK SEO BACKLINK SEO BACKLINK SEO BACKLINK SEO BACKLINK SEO BACKLINK SEO BACKLINK SEO BACKLINK SEO BACKLINK SEO BACKLINK SEO BACKLINK SEO BACKLINK SEO BACKLINK SEO BACKLINK SEO BACKLINK SEO BACKLINK SEO BACKLINK SEO BACKLINK SEO BACKLINK SEO BACKLINK SEO BACKLINK