From the Alberta NDP
NDP CALLS FOR UTILITY BILL RELIEF IN RESPONSE TO SHOCKING BILLS DURING PANDEMIC, ECONOMIC DOWNTURN
Alberta’s NDP is calling for major relief for consumers following a sudden surge in constituents coming forward with massive cost increases on their monthly electricity and overall utility bills.
The Office of the Utilities Consumer Advocate (UCA) cites a number of contributing factors to the upswing in prices in Alberta, including increased consumption while people are staying home to observe COVID-19 public health orders, increased use during the winter, increased costs for natural gas and electricity and increased transmission and distribution charges.
“There’s a compounding effect here and it’s hammering household budgets,” said NDP Leader Rachel Notley. “Many Albertans have to use more natural gas and electricity if they work from home or spend more time at home to help protect their communities from the spread of COVID. Couple that with soaring prices for natural gas and electricity and you’re seeing massive bills and no relief for families.”
In 2016, the NDP Government capped electricity prices under the Regulated Rate Option at 6.8 cents per kilowatt hour; however, Jason Kenney and the UCP removed it in late 2019. According to the UCA, average electricity prices have exceeded that previous cap in January, February and March of this year — the highest price was reported in February by EPCOR, which charged an average of 8.95 cents per kilowatt hour.
As well, natural gas prices are at highs not seen in seven years, with prices in March exceeding four cents per gigajoule — the last time prices were this high was in June 2014. For context, rates were just 1.6 cents per gigajoule in March 2020.
In response, the NDP is calling for the following four actions to be taken by the UCP immediately:
- Provide direct consumer relief to two-thirds of Albertans (those earning up to $55,000 annually as an individual or $102,500 per couple). Model the relief program after the COVID-19 Energy Assistance Program offered by the Government of Ontario, which provided customers with up to $750 in support both their electricity and natural gas bills. Consumers can apply for relief on both bills separately, providing total potential relief of $1,500.
- Reinstate the Regulated Rate Option cap for electricity at 6.8 cents per kilowatt hour.
- Reinstate the Utility Payment Deferral Program, which allowed consumers and businesses to defer payment of bills but which ended last June.
- Ban all utility shutoffs for Alberta homes until the pandemic ends and public health orders are lifted.
Notley noted that Albertans are already struggling greatly during the pandemic and economic downturn, with tens of thousands of jobs lost in the province and currently the second-highest unemployment rate in Canada. In a recent Angus Reid poll, the percentage of Canadians reporting that they are worse off than they were a year ago is highest in Alberta.
“We need action to help Albertans in this time of great need,” Notley said. “People doing the right thing and staying closer to home during this pandemic should not be penalized for doing so. We need real consumer relief from these glaring utility bills and we need it to last for the duration of the pandemic, no matter when it might end.”
Thousands of Albertans have written or come forward to the NDP Caucus with complaints and concerns about their utility bills. Calgary father Hassan Ali Nakokara lost his job early in the pandemic and has been struggling to pay bills since. In February, his monthly utility bill jumped to $850 from $450 the month prior.
“It’s impossible for me to pay that,” Nakukara said. “I’m out of work, I’m trying to support my kids while I look for work. The last thing I can do is hand over hundreds to heat and power my home. I need help and I’m desperately hoping the government will step up to help me and so many others.”
Fellow Calgarian Carolyn Nystrom said she and her husband have lived in their home since 2012 and paid between $250-300 for utilities per month. Her bill has been increasing rapidly since December – for March, the total reached $576. Nystrom said it appears the greatest increases are being seen on electricity and transmission charges.
“We are in a pandemic,” Nystrom said. “People have lost their jobs. People have spent their savings. My husband and I have both been fortunate to keep our jobs through all of this. Even though we still get a paycheque, a bill doubling in three months is absolutely unaffordable … if companies like Enmax and Direct Energy can charge whatever they want per kilowatt hour or gigajoule, what can stop them? And what can we do? We live in Canada. Being able to turn lights on is not exactly an option here. We have to pay, and companies without regulations and caps know that.”
Correspondence and calls regarding spiking utility bills have come in from all over the province.
Airdrie mother Lisa Gilling said her most recent electricity bill shows the price being charged per kilowatt hour jumped from 5 cents to 19 cents per kilowatt hour and her bill for electricity alone totaled over $400.
“A three hundred per cent increase for a product or service is drastic but when it is an essential service, like electricity, it can be catastrophic, especially for a single-income family,” Gilling said. “Do you cut back on groceries in order to have lights and hot water?”
Mickey Moore, a senior living alone in Vermillion said his bill has risen by hundreds of dollars since the beginning of the year to more than $550 in March.
“Without some kind of control on essential service, with no real competition, how can we seniors expect to keep up on our fixed incomes?” Moore said. “Does the government plan to index seniors’ incomes to the rising utility costs? When we had regulated utility oversight there was some control and fairness applied.”
From maybe to no: Alberta cabinet ministers give range of answers on replacing Kenney
By Dean Bennett in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada
The race to replace Jason Kenney as United Conservative Party leader and Alberta premier has two entrants so far along with a number of cabinet ministers who, when asked if they plan to run, delivered answers ranging from maybe to a hard no.
Government house leader and Environment Minister Jason Nixon says he has not ruled out running for the top job but has more thinking to do and, for now, is focused on the spring sitting of the legislature.
“At the end of the day, internal politics are internal politics, but the people of Alberta expect us to come up here and get to work,” Nixon told reporters on his way into the house Tuesday.
“I haven’t ruled anything out (on a leadership bid),” he added. “I’ll be doing what I think is best for the party under the lens of making sure that we stay united and that we defeat the NDP in a year.”
Transportation Minister Rajan Sawhney said she will consult with her family, constituents and Albertans before deciding.
“I haven’t made up my mind as of yet,” she said.
Finance Minister Travis Toews refused multiple times to say whether he would be running or not running, or whether he’s even considering it at all.
“This week we are focused on the people’s business,” said Toews.
Justice Minister Tyler Shandro said he will not run for the leadership but plans to run again for a seat in Calgary-Acadia in the 2023 provincial election.
“It’s never crossed my mind to run for the leader of any political party,” said Shandro. “I wasn’t sure I wanted to be a politician or MLA in the first place.”
Advanced Education Minister Demetrios Nicolaides said he won’t be in the running.
“I don’t have any plans for anything like that,” he said, adding he does plan to run in the election.
Health Minister Jason Copping also tossed cold water on a bid.
“I’m not considering running for the leadership at this time. I’m focused on delivering health care for Albertans,” he said.
Children’s Services Minster Rebecca Schulz said: “It’s too early to say.”
Labour Minister Kaycee Madu had two words: “No comment.”
On Monday, Jobs, Economy and Innovation Minister Doug Schweitzer announced he won’t run for the leadership and won’t run again for his seat in Calgary-Elbow.
Two candidates — Brian Jean and Danielle Smith — have said they will seek the leadership.
Jean and Schweitzer ran and lost to Kenney in the inaugural UCP leadership race in 2017. Jean has since returned to politics, winning a seat for the UCP earlier this year in a byelection on a platform to unseat Kenney as leader.
Smith is the former leader of the Wildrose Party, which merged under Jean with Kenney’s Progressive Conservatives in 2017 to form the UCP.
The UCP is still working on details of the leadership race and no rules or timeline have been presented yet.
Tuesday was the first day the house sat since Kenney said last week he will quit the top job once a new leader is chosen.
He made the announcement after receiving 51 per cent support in a leadership review vote by party rank and file. He said the result reflects a deep division in the party that won’t be fixed if he stays premier.
The Opposition NDP continued to hammer away at what it calls the “interim UCP” government. It said while the government focuses on its internal drama, Albertans are facing real challenges, including inflation, high gas and utility costs and long waiting lists for surgery.
“(There’s) all kinds of uncertainty in Alberta politics right now, but one constant (is) this premier’s self-importance,” NDP finance critic Shannon Phillips told Kenney as he sat across the aisle from her, signing documents and answering questions in the house.
“Anyway,” Phillips added, “enough about yesterday’s man.”
This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 24, 2022.
Oilers outlast Flames to grab 3-1 series lead
EDMONTON — Ryan Nugent-Hopkins scored his second goal of the night with 3:27 left in regulation as the Edmonton Oilers defeated the Calgary Flames 5-3 on Tuesday to take a 3-1 lead in the teams’ second-round playoff series.
Evander Kane, with his NHL-best 11th and 12th of the post-season, and Zach Hyman had the other goals for Edmonton, which got 29 saves from Mike Smith. Leon Draisaitl added two assists.
Connor McDavid also had two assists to give him a league-topping 25 points in 11 playoff outings this spring for the Oilers, who kept their foot on the gas with a third straight victory over their provincial rival.
Elias Lindholm, Mikael Backlund and Rasmus Andersson, on a short-handed goal from his own end in the third period to tie proceedings 3-3, replied for Calgary, which will look to stave off elimination in the first post-season Battle of Alberta in 31 years Thursday at home in Game 5.
Jacob Markstrom stopped 21 shots.
After trailing 3-0 after the first period and 3-2 through 40 minutes, Calgary improbably knotted things in the third on an Edmonton power play when Andersson fired a 150-foot clearing attempt from his own end that somehow fooled Smith at 10:56 and stunned Rogers Place.
But with the Oilers wobbling, Nugent-Hopkins shovelled home his fourth of the playoffs from Markstrom’s doorstep to send the nervous crowd into a frenzy.
Andersson then took a four-minute penalty for high-sticking with 2:40 left to effectively kill off the game before Kane iced it into an empty net.
Edmonton also held a 2-1 series lead in the first round against the Los Angeles Kings only to play what the Oilers described as their worst performance of the month in a 4-0 loss.
They won’t be thrilled with this Game 4 either, but got the victory for a stranglehold on the series.
Markstrom, who had allowed 14 goals in the series before getting pulled after two periods with Calgary trailing Sunday’s Game 3 by a 4-0 score line, played the puck behind his own net on the first shift, but put it right on Nugent-Hopkins’ stick for him to bury his third inside a deafening arena.
The goal was the third-fastest in Oilers’ playoff history, just short of McDavid (19 seconds in 2020) and Fernando Pisani (16 seconds in 2006).
One of three finalists for the Vézina Trophy as the NHL’s top netminder, Markstrom recovered to deny Darnell Nurse on a chance a couple minutes later before Smith was at full stretch on a Johnny Gaudreau one-time chance.
Calgary winger Tyler Toffoli then took a tripping penalty and the Oilers made the visitors pay when Hyman outmuscled a hobbled Chris Tanev — back in the lineup for the first time since Game 6 of the opening round despite a suspected upper-body injury — in tight to bury his fifth goal of the series and seventh of the playoffs at 9:53.
The Flames, who topped the Pacific Division in the regular season, pushed back with a couple of decent shifts, but Kane, who was coming off a natural hat trick in Game 3, made it 3-0 with 66 seconds remaining in the period on a shot that nicked off blue-liner Nikita Zadorov.
Calgary finally showed some life on slick power play in the second with Kane off for slashing, and Lindholm eventually picked the top corner for his fifth at 9:04 after the Oilers twice failed to clear the defensive zone.
Backlund got the Flames within one at 3-2 just 36 seconds later when he stepped past Duncan Keith and fired his fourth past Smith.
Smith made a good stop on a Lindholm power-play chance early in the third before the home side got its second man-advantage with 11 minutes left in regulation.
Markstrom kept his team within striking distance with a terrific pad stop on Draisaitl, who was looking to become the first player in NHL history to register record three-plus points in four straight playoff games, with a terrific pad stop before Andersson’s shocking equalizer from well inside his own blue line.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 24, 2022.
Follow @JClipperton_CP on Twitter.
Joshua Clipperton, The Canadian Press
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