The Opposition’s sustained attacks on the Kenney Government for removing the NDP’s cap on electricity price increases must be hitting the mark with voters worried about the cost of utilities and inflation generally.
How else can we explain the UCP gas and electricity associate minister’s attempt yesterday to blame the NDP’s policies while it was in government for electricity price surges now being experienced by Albertans?
At a news conference, Dale Nally trotted out a previously unmentioned year-old report by a management consulting firm to try to blame the NDP for the loss of $1.34 billion by the province’s balancing pool, an agency created in 1999 to keep consumers’ utility rates lower when market-driven price spikes resulted from the Conservative government of the day’s deregulation of the utility industry.
The losses were posted when utility companies terminated contracts after the NDP government imposed a carbon levy on coal-fired electricity-generating plants.
So Mr. Nally claimed current high electricity prices, a portion of which go to restoring balancing pool funds, are the result of “the former government’s ideological agenda.”
Never mind that the balancing pool, the workings of which are pretty hard for normal mortals to understand, was part of a lousy deregulation scheme created by a previous Conservative government to, as NDP Energy Critic Kathleen Ganley put it yesterday, guarantee utility corporations’ profits “by tying the hands of government and exposing Alberta taxpayers to unreasonable risks.”
And never mind also that only the day before Mr. Nally’s news conference a study released by the University of Calgary’s School of Public Policy, which is not exactly a nest of Marxist hotheads, concluded that by far the biggest factor in Alberta’s current soaring electricity rates is large utility corporations charging more for electricity.
“The things that are getting a lot of attention, like the change in the natural gas price and the carbon price, have had a pretty modest impact,” one of the study’s authors, U of C economics professor Blake Shaffer, told the Calgary Herald.
As Ms. Ganley bluntly explained it, “the real reason for these price spikes is due to electricity companies marking up the price of power and gouging Albertans who are already struggling to make ends meet.”
Power companies’ profits have increased five-fold as a result, she noted.
“The UCP left Albertans vulnerable to these steep increases by removing the NDP-era rate cap on electricity prices,” Ms. Ganley argued.
Even if the loss could be blamed on the NDP’s environmental policy, complaining about it would be pretty rich for a government that started its term in office with a $4.7-billion tax cut for wealthy corporations, misplaced $1.6 billion through lousy accounting of its energy policies, and gave away at least $1.3 billion on a bad bet that Donald Trump would win the 2020 U.S. presidential election and allow the Keystone XL Pipeline to the Gulf Coast to be completed.
Alert readers will recall that’s not how things worked out in November 2020.
Under those circumstances, it bordered on the unintentionally hilarious for the government’s news release to quote the president of a business bigshots’ advocacy group saying “every dollar paid for by Alberta ratepayers needs to be treated with respect and restraint.”
Mr. Nally, the MLA for Morinville-St. Albert, hasn’t seemed like the sharpest knife in Premier Jason Kenney’s cabinet drawer since his 2020 meltdown at St. Albert MLA Marie Renaud for daring to criticize the UCP government’s rollback of LBGTQ rights for students during a Pride flag-raising ceremony at St. Alberta City Hall.
But he can’t be blamed for yesterday’s idea, which clearly came straight from Premier Kenney’s strategic brain trust – whose members may be feeling a bit as if they’re on the ropes along with their boss as the party vote on Mr. Kenney’s suitability to remain premier continues.
Certainly Mr. Nally can’t have been responsible for the government’s almost incoherent news release, which tried and failed to explain the opaque operations of the balancing pool in a way that makes the UCP Government look as if it’s good for another term in office.
Despite Mr. Nally touting the “independent” audit by the Canadian arm of the controversial U.K.-based Deloitte consulting firm, completed last March and left on a shelf since then, his department says it needs more time to analyze the report’s results. As of yesterday, Mr. Nally’s staff didn’t seem to know how much the Deloitte report cost, either.
Meanwhile, Ms. Ganley called yesterday’s news conference nothing more than an effort to distract Albertans from the fact the UCP can’t seem to get anything done about its promised rebates for electricity and natural gas bills, which are not expected to be paid for months.
“Albertans can’t trust the UCP to get to the bottom of the mess they made,” she said in a statement. “We need a full public inquiry to determine why Alberta families and businesses are paying so much more for utilities under the UCP.”