Sask. Opposition calls for extension on Crown utility bill relief

·3 min read
Aleana Young, the Opposition NDP's critic for SaskPower, and NDP Leader Ryan Meili are shown here in a May 2021 file photo. On Tuesday, they called for the provincial government to give families and businesses who missed bill payments during the last few months a chance to catch up without penalty. (Bryan Eneas/CBC - image credit)
Aleana Young, the Opposition NDP's critic for SaskPower, and NDP Leader Ryan Meili are shown here in a May 2021 file photo. On Tuesday, they called for the provincial government to give families and businesses who missed bill payments during the last few months a chance to catch up without penalty. (Bryan Eneas/CBC - image credit)

The Opposition NDP is asking the Saskatchewan government to allow people to defer Crown utility bills from September 2020 to July 9.

The government created a Crown utility interest waiver program in 2020, which offered customers a six-month payment deferral option and interest waiver from March to September.

On Tuesday, the Opposition said people are now being hit with interest for missed payments dating back to September, and asked for the program to be made retroactive to its end date of September 2020 and extended into July 2021.

The province lifted all remaining COVID-19 restrictions on July 11.

In addition to calling on the government to reopen the Crown deferral program and apply it to bills since last September, the NDP called for the province to immediately stop charging interest on all deferred utility payments.

Interest payment are "the last thing that families and businesses need right now," said Aleana Young, the NDP's critic for SaskPower.

"Crowns are designed to return money, value and benefit to the people of Saskatchewan, not charge them compounding interest rates," said Young.

"We shouldn't be kicking people when they are down, trying to make money off of them when they are trying to get back on their feet."

Don Morgan, the minister responsible for the Crown Investment Corporation, said that at the end of the six-month deferral period, "to help customers get back on their feet, any balance outstanding could be paid back over the next 12 months through equal monthly installments with no interest charged."

"In total, this provides customers with a period of 18 months to recover from the rapid impacts of the pandemic," Morgan said in a statement. "Saskatchewan people will still be benefiting from this program into September 2021."

Morgan also emphasized Crown programs the government introduced to help keep costs down during the pandemic, including:

  • a 10 per cent rebate on SaskPower bills.

  • a $285-million rebate from Saskatchewan Government Insurance to all registered vehicle owners.

  • data overage charges waived three separate times by SaskTel.

Morgan maintained Saskatchewan residents are "currently paying the lowest utility bundle in all of Canada."

Halt rebranding plans: Meili

NDP Leader Ryan Meili, who joined Young on Tuesday, also called on the government to allow customers relief on late bill payments and the interest that has accumulated.

Meili also responded to the provincial government's confirmation last week that it is in the process of exploring a change to Crown corporation branding.

"We know that the people of Saskatchewan respect and rely on our Crown corporations, and if there is an opportunity to strengthen and align those services through branding we would consider moving forward with such an initiative," director of communications for the provincial government Julie Leggott said in a statement last week.

The government should halt those plans, Meili said Tuesday.

"Instead of prioritizing making families whole after the last 18 months, Premier [Scott] Moe and his government are looking to spend millions on a rebranding vanity project to paint the Crowns in Sask. Party colours," he said. "The people of Saskatchewan deserve better."

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