REGINA — The opposition New Democrats continued their push on the affordability issue, and the impact of rate hikes, at a media availability Thursday.
Opposition Critic for Economy and Jobs Aleana Young stood outside a downtown Regina business, T+A Vintage and Core Coffee, to highlight the struggles small business was having in the wake of energy rate increases.
“What we’re calling for today is for the government to listen not just to the Opposition, but to listen to small business owners in the community and organizations that represent them and the people who love them," Young said. "The addition of these costs and fees, the eight per cent Sask Power hike and now the 20 per cent energy hike, are simply untenable for businesses still struggling to recover from the COVID-19 pandemic.”
The NDP called on the government to reverse the rate increase. That would be welcome news to the proprietors who stood with Young at the media event.
“The utility rate increase is coming with next to no notice and the volume of the increase is a huge challenge for us to react to that,” said Tim Weisgarber, co-proprietor along with Amy Weisgarber of T+A Vintage and Core Coffee.
“We were anticipating some type of increase but I think it’s unrealistic for anyone to adapt to it and expect our customers to adjust and be patient. That’s asking a lot from people who’ve been under a lot of stress.”
Because of the short notice of the rate increase, he said it may affect what they deliver to their customers. “Obviously, that cost gets passed down to our customers.”
Amy added that because the summer has been exceptionally warm they have had to run their air conditioning more, adding to the costs.
“Even large jumps in prices, in expenses, means we can’t maintain our building,” she said. “It’s not even about growing, it’s just about maintenance of our business.”
T+A Vintage and Core Coffee offers affordable clothing for sale and also runs a coffee shop and bakery at their Halifax Street location.
"One of the things we feel is important is we do provide reduced prices for folks that may not be able to afford to pay," Tim said. "Those are values we have and when there's an increase we wouldn't go back on those types of decisions, to be that type of business that offers those things. But it does make it a lot harder."
Young accused the government of taking every opportunity they can not to help, but to hurt.
“Folks aren’t looking for a handout, folks are looking for a government that does no harm,” said Young. She called for a walk back of the rate hikes, and for more affordability measures, pointing to measures in other provinces brought in recently.
"Manitoba dropped their energy rates last week,” said Young. Meanwhile, "we all started paying as business owners 20 per cent more.”
The government has issued the following statement in response to the NDP's claims. They noted the "proposed change by Manitoba would see their equivalent of the commodity rate decrease to $5.23/GJ. SaskEnergy’s proposed rate increase is to $4.20/GJ."
Their statement also pointed out “Saskatchewan remains 24 per cent lower than the natural gas prices in Manitoba that the NDP are promoting as affordability measures.”
The opposition New Democrats have been consistently hammering the Sask. Party government on affordability this summer. During the spring session the Opposition had proposed a windfall profits surcharge and a rebate to help Saskatchewan people with the cost of living. The party has also been repeatedly critical of proposed rate increases at SaskPower and SaskEnergy.
Last week, the province approved a SaskPower rate hike of four per cent this fall and another four per cent to take effect in the spring of 2023.