One issue that has been lighting-up the phone lines of my constituency offices lately has been the introduction of the BC Hydro Crisis Fund.

People are discovering a new charge to their monthly hydro bill designed to help those who can’t afford to pay. Customers who fall behind on their payments are eligible for a grant of up to $600 a year to avoid having their electricity cut off. It’s not the amount of the fee — approximately $3 per year – that bothers people. It’s the fact the fee simply appeared on their bill without any consent or official notice.

Certainly no one wants to see a person’s hydro cut off, especially in the middle of winter. But make no mistake, the crisis fund will also benefit BC Hydro by insulating the utility against financial loss. BC Hydro expects to raise $5 million through the crisis fund in the first year, $1.5 million of which will be required to cover start-up costs and administration. People are naturally worried that once in place, hydro customers will be subject to further arbitrary increases to the crisis fund.

It should also be noted that this is not a one-time grant. Those who qualify for the crisis fund are eligible to apply for subsequent grants on an annual basis. When NDP energy minister Michelle Mungall was asked about the crisis fund at the Legislature earlier this year, she indicated a further need for a “lifeline rate” for low income customers. In other words, the NDP wants a two-tier hydro rate where some people receive a discount while most other residential customers will be required to pay a higher rate.

This is how the NDP intends to ‘make life more affordable for British Columbians.’ It comes on the heels of a public relations disaster last March when the government announced a pre-mature ‘hydro rate freeze’ before it had been approved by the BC Utilities Commission. Mungall was forced to make an embarrassing public retreat when a three per cent rate increase went ahead despite the NDP’s hollow election promise.

I know for a fact there are lots people out there who are already worried about the rising cost of hydro without the additional burden of a highly bureaucratic crisis fund or lifeline rate designed to benefit a chosen few.

I’ve always taught my kids to turn off the lights when they leave a room. I wonder if British Columbians will do the same thing to the NDP when next election rolls around.

Dan Davies

Member of the Legislative Assembly

Peace River North