Groups call for freeze on Hydro-Québec rates

Heading in to the third year of the pandemic, small and medium-sized businesses may bear the brunt of the rate increase while struggling to make revenue as inflation rises.

Hydro-Québec made profit of $3.5B in 2021, coalition says

The three organizations say Hydro-Québec made a profit of $3.5 billion in 2021. (Paul Chiasson/Canadian Press)

A coalition of business and consumer groups is asking for a freeze on Hydro-Québec electricity rates, after the state-owned company announced it plans to raise rates this year and next in line with inflation.

The Quebec wing of the Canadian Federation of Independent Business (CFIB), Option consommateurs and the Association québécoise des consommateurs industriels d'électricité (AQCIE) also want the Quebec government make the province's energy regulator, the Régie de l'énergie, bring Hydro to heel to protect consumers.

In January 2022, inflation in Canada exceeded five per cent for the first time since September 1991, according to Statistics Canada. By comparison, the overall Consumer Price Index (CPI) increased by one per cent in January 2021.

The three organizations say Hydro-Québec, a monopoly, made a profit of $3.5 billion in 2021. According to their calculations, by 2023 the Crown corporation will have made an extra $600 million with its proposed rate hikes.

Christian Corbeil, director of Option consommateurs, says that by removing the Régie de l'énergie's power to set Hydro-Québec's rates annually, the government has exposed consumers to rate-shocks and allowed the Crown corporation to make unreasonable profits.

François Vincent, vice-president of CFIB Quebec, says that just as small- and medium-sized businesses are trying to bounce back from the pandemic, they are being battered by inflation.

"Right now, it is the worst time that Hydro-Québec can impose a rate increase," he said. "The majority of small businesses did not recover their normal revenues."

In a news release, Vincent said the minister of energy and natural resources must understand that stifling small businesses won't help the economy in the short, medium or long term.

The CFIB calculated that the average rate increase for a small local business would be around $200 a year and the average increase for all commercial clients would be $518 more annually.

On Sunday, Liberal Opposition Leader Dominique Anglade proposed a rate freeze and the temporary lifting of the provincial sales tax on electricity bills (up to $4,000).

with files from Kate McKenna