In May 2018, the PUB ruled in favour of a new rate category and rate for on-reserve residential customers. The ruling stated that this new category was to receive 0% increase for the 2018/2019 year. This is compared to the rest of Manitoba that would see a 3.6% average increase in rates from the 2017/2018 year.
On August 2018, Manitoba Hydro filed to appeal this ruling based on two key points.
- A lack of jurisdiction on the part of PUB to make this ruling.
- A legislative requirement that states rates should be equal in regions across the province.
For the first matter, the PUB argues that this category is based on a bill-affordability programme for low income rate residential customers. As per Bill 77 they are allowed to review and change rates in order to offer reasonable rates based on affordability. Manitoba Hydro strongly disagrees. On the second, the PUB argues that the adjustment is not based on physical regions of the province but rather affordability. This therefore means that the PUB is not going against the law in making this ruling. Manitoba Hydro strongly disagrees.
Why is this case so important?
Manitoba is the first province to implement a new category and rate for residential customers on-reserve. This ruling is capable of changing the pricing landscape for reserves across Canada. Whereby the appeal is declined, this case can be used to argue in favour of similar cases. It sets an unexpected precedent for utility boards, hydro companies, and even the provincial government to follow.
Reserves are often low income areas. Affordability of this crucial amenity, especially in winter, plays a huge role in determining quality of life. Most households have phased out wood stoves and other alternative heating options are not available to most First Nation communities. Only two of 63 Manitoba First Nations have access to natural gas. Hydro bills on Manitoba reserves are noted to be significantly higher than the cities and towns. Preventing the 3.6% increase in the 2018/2019 year will give residents minor relief from ever increasing bills. A potential rate decrease in the future would most likely allow for a significantly positive change in quality of living.
Most importantly, hydroelectric dams in Manitoba are largely built on or very close to reserves. As a result, the members of these reserves have had their livelihoods and ways of life immensely disrupted by the hydroelectric ‘development’ in form of dam construction, flooding, and hydro corridors. These changes have lead to high mercury levels, shoreline erosion and subsequent collapse of permafrost and forests, as well as impacts contributing to declines in biodiversity and bird and wildlife habitat. Hydro development has also impacted incomes through fishing, hunting and trapping, recreational activities such as swimming. Indirect impacts even affect basic human rights such as access to clean drinking water. We feel that it is time that hydro acknowledges these as well as other social and cultural impacts by giving these communities a financial break. Dropping the appeal is a step forward in truth and reconciliation. It is time that you recognize and the disproportional nature of these effects, take personal responsibility and push Manitoba Hydro to do the right thing.
The Crown Corporation is moving forward with its appeal, stating in its August press release, “This appeal isn’t about the social policy merits of these special rates, rather it’s primarily a question of whether the current legislation enables the PUB to create them,” said Shepherd. “The court is in the best position to provide clarity on whether the PUB has authority to establish these special rates. We believe the PUB has overstepped its bounds in issuing this particular directive.”
It is uncertain when and whether the Manitoba Court of Appeal will hear this case.