Life in Manitoba is about to get more expensive, NDP say

Manitoba NDP say the PC government is putting the province's affordability advantage is in jeopardy, and could break a law in doing so.

Opposition grills government on Hydro, insurance rates; tuition

Manitoba Hydro rate hikes are just one of the fee increases provincial NDP said put the province's affordability advantage in jeopardy. (CBC)

Provincial NDP are accusing the PC government of making life in Manitoba more expensive for everybody, and potentially breaking a law in doing so.

New Democrat MLA James Allum said the Progressive Conservatives are threatening the province's "affordability advantage" in question period on Tuesday, pointing to potential increases in Hydro, car insurance and tuition rates.

According to provincial legislation brought in by the NDP, Manitoba has to have the lowest bundle of utility costs in the country every year, and upcoming rate hikes could put the province in violation, Allum said.

The Affordable Utility Rate Accountability Act, which came into force in September, 2013, requires the province to enlist an independent accounting firm to prepare a report each year comparing the cost in each province of a bundle including home electricity, home heating and car insurance.

If Manitoba isn't the lowest on the list, the government has to put together a plan to get us there, the law states.

Premier Brian Pallister called the law "a basketcase kind of legislation."

"It's an optic. A billboard," he told reporters after question period. "It's designed to promote the government of the day. I'm not interested in the legislation so much as the quality of the services and the prices Manitobans pay for those services."

Manitoba Hydro and Manitoba Public Insurance have both signalled intentions to apply for rate increases above the cost of inflation in recent months.

In June, MPI said 83 per cent of vehicles on the road (not including trailers and off-road vehicles) will see an increase of $40 or less in the next year. However in MPI's 2017 rate request to the Public Utilities Board the Corporation said it faces a significant risk from an interest rate forecast, which could result in as much as a seven per cent increase in Basic 16 Autopac rates.

Last month, Manitoba Hydro CEO Kelvin Shepherd said the utility's dire debt situation will drive rates up and staffing down over the next several years.

Tuition concerns

The NDP also hammered the government on concerns about rising tuition fees at post-secondary institutions. 

The PC government is reviewing how much tuition might be raised in the coming year. The current practice is to keep the increases tied to the cost of inflation, but NDP Fort Rouge MLA Wab Kinew said he's concerned that will change.

Kinew says a large rise in tuition would hurt people least able to afford it.

The Tory government promised to improve bursaries and scholarships for students, but Kinew is concerned the money wouldn't get to the students who need it most.

"There is really nothing in place to guarantee that those with the greatest financial need will get some assistance. Whereas if you just keep tuition affordable across the board, you know everyone coming in the front door of a college or university is going to have a situation that is more affordable," Kinew told reporters after Question Period.

Education minister Ian Wishart acknowledged the government was reviewing tuition rates, but didn't have a number to where they might rise.

"Right now we are the third lowest in the country. Certainly that is a challenge for post-secondary institutions. We are considered a deal, especially by foreign students, so we have to keep those things in mind. But we also have to make sure post secondary institutions have sustainable funding arrangements," Wishart said.

There was tuition freeze for several years in Manitoba before the previous government began tying fee increases to inflation.