Fort Langley-Aldergrove MLA Rich Coleman has become known as the “go to” guy in the provincial cabinet. His latest assignment — as the new energy minister, he is to get to the bottom of what’s behind BC Hydro’s proposal for a 50 per cent rate increase over the next five years.
As usual, Coleman isn’t wasting any time. He has had discussions with the top management at Hydro, and has now appointed a three-member panel to review its spending plans.
He has made it clear that the provincial government, which is Hydro’s sole shareholder, wants to see an approach that doesn’t lean quite so heavily on Hydro ratepayers — those of us who use electricity on a daily basis.
Coleman’s tough questions on our behalf are welcome, and are the most tangible symbol that government under new Premier Christy Clark will be different from government under her predecessor Gordon Campbell.
Clark has pledged to look at fee boosts, rate hikes and taxes from a “families first” perspective, and clearly it is not in the best interests of families to pay 50 per cent more for electricity within five years.
There are a number of other areas within the provincial government’s purview that need such intensive scrutiny. Among them are ferry fares; MSP premiums; the HST rate (assuming that the tax survives the upcoming referendum) and property taxes, paid to both municipalities and TransLink.
Taxpayers are feeling pressured on all sides — from MSP premium boosts to four to five per cent property tax increases. Most of them have not seen wage raises for some time, and many are on fixed incomes. The province has to do more to look out for their interests than it has.
At the same time, the province must foster a good economic climate and that means Hydro, as just one example, must have an up-to-date power system in place. That requires major capital expenditures.
Perhaps the province could look at how W.A.C. Bennett financed some of Hydro’s early growth — through parity bonds which allowed Hydro to borrow from B.C. residents, rather than saddle all ratepayers with higher power bills, to pay for capital improvements.
Voters elect MLAs to look out for their interests. It’s good to see Coleman doing just that in his new position, and to see the focus of the BC Liberal government change to become more interested in the economic welfare of all B.C. residents.