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NDP attacks Sask Party for rate hikes impacting small business

Critic Aleana Young was at local downtown business, calling out the Sask Party government for rising SaskPower rates.
Opposition critic Aleana Young stands behind local business owner Morgan Choquer at an NDP media availability in Regina on rising utility rates.

REGINA - The opposition New Democrats were once again attacking the Sask Party government this week on what has become a familiar theme: rising power and energy rates.

The Opposition Critic for Economy and Jobs and Sask Power, Aleana Young, was at the downtown business The Cure Kitchen + Bar on Thursday morning for her latest call to scrap the latest Sask Power rate increase. 

Sask Power is set to increase rates by four per cent on April 1, which is on the heels of two other rate increases in an eight month span. The first was a four per cent hike last October, followed by another three per cent in January.

“Now the Minister will tell you that power rates are up because of the war in Ukraine,” said Young. “But let's be absolutely clear. The war didn't pull tens of millions of dollars from Crown corporations this year and then turn around and hike rates. The Sask Party government did that. The war didn't raise energy rates by 23 per cent with just three weeks notice. Again, the Sask Party did that. And the war didn't raise power bills by 11 per cent in just eight months. That too, was Scott Moe’s Sask Party government. And honestly, in what world does it make sense to raise energy bills 11 per cent in just eight months, in this economy.”

Young pointed to a survey of members by the Canadian Federation of Independent Business, which stated 93 per cent of Saskatchewan small business owners said their the top cost constraints were fuel and energy costs. 

“And to stress just how dire the situation is, in the same survey 13 per cent of small and independent businesses indicate that they're seriously considering closing their doors forever,” Young said. “And this is hundreds, potentially hundreds of small businesses across this province that are on the verge of bankruptcy because the government has added on costs, increased taxes and hiked rates at every opportunity.”

She accused the government of no longer rewarding “that entrepreneurial drive that makes this province great or empowering local business owners like the folks here at The Cure. They’re forcing everyone with a meter to pay the price for their mismanagement.”

Young was joined by Morgan Choquer, co-owner of The Cure. Choquer told reporters her business already had to pay over $1,000 for utilities and now were having to pay an additional $300-$400 a month minimum with the rate increases.

Choquer said with food prices going up plus the additional increase of utilities, “there's really no option but to raise prices.” Her customers “really feel that hit as well to things that were, you know, a luxury but were affordable and were maintainable,” she said.

Choquer also noted it was another hit to their business following the challenges of weathering COVID-19 restrictions. “Just again with the rates increasing and with product costs increasing, it’s taken us a lot longer to really get back on our feet than we expected to.”

The media event Thursday has been another in a repeated series of NDP attacks on the government on issues of affordability and utility rate increases over the past year. 

The SaskParty government and the Crown Investments Corporation Minister Don Morgan has typically responded to the opposition’s attacks by pointing out that even with the increases Saskatchewan residents still enjoyed the lowest utility bundle costs in the country. 

“It's great for the Minister to, you know, stick to his talking points and maintain that Saskatchewan has low utility rates and a low utility bundle,” said Young when asked about it on Thursday. “That's not what we're hearing from small business owners.”

“If he's not going to listen to the NDP opposition, of course, I'm crushed by that. But he can get out and listen to people in the community here saying this loud and clear. He can listen to the CFIB survey results that indicate that this is 93 per cent of small and independent businesses in Saskatchewan who feel this way and it is not going to get better if these costs continue to be piled on. And people don’t buy it coming from a government that is looking to celebrate a balanced budget and looking to pat themselves on the back as we get closer to budget time, but they’re balancing that budget on the backs of homeowners and citizens in Saskatchewan … I would say the Minister needs to wake up, pay attention to the shockingly low consumer confidence numbers that we have right now in Saskatchewan according to the Conference Board, and get out and talk to small business owners who are telling him loud and clear what the issues are.”