Newfoundland and Labrador's home-heating energy rebate program will begin a month earlier than was originally planned.

The eight per cent rebate on furnace fuel, stove oil, propane or wood products will now begin on Sept. 1.  The rebate on electricity will still begin Oct. 1.

The change may turn the rebate into an election issue, as it will now begin before formal campaigning begins for the Oct. 11 election.

Finance Minister Tom Marshall had already come in for questions about the original design of the program, as it would have begun within two weeks of election day.

Marshall said the date was moved up because oil suppliers were concerned that many people who normally buy fuel in September would wait an extra month in order to get the rebate.

The rebate is equivalent to the eight percent provincial portion of the Harmonized Sales Tax.

The rebate announced in April will apply to all residents using fuel and/or electricity to heat their homes.

The program is expected to cost the provincial government about $38 million annually - a loss the government said that it can afford last April, when it announced a surplus of $485 million for the past fiscal year and forecasted a $59-million surplus for the coming year.

When Marshall announced the rebate in last spring's budget, he deflected criticism that the program aims to buy votes.

"It is an election year but I don't see any difference between this budget and the budgets I've done in the past," Marshall said in April.

According to the government's plan, the savings will appear on bills consumers receive from oil and electricity companies and those companies will then invoice the province for the rebated amount.