Poverty is no excuse for lower rates, court rules

OTTAWA, ONTARIO - The Supreme Court of Canada ruled that poverty is not a reason for power rate producers to provide a lower electricity rate for poor consumers. The decision upheld a Nova Scotia Court of Appeal decision earlier this year against a group of five poor Nova Scotia residents led by single parent Denise Boulter.

The group challenged a 2006 rate increase application of the Nova Scotia Power before the province's Utility and Review Board. They claimed that the rate hike would be discriminatory against poor residents because it would be applied evenly to all electricity consumers regardless of their capacity to pay.

To bolster their claim, the group argued that because of their financial woes, they had difficulties making ends meet, and with higher power rates it would deprive them of buying basic needs such as healthy food. They even brought in the hearings experts who testified on the repercussion of poverty on the health of poor Nova Scotia residents.

They said the power rate hike, in effect, discriminates against members of certain marginalized groups based on their gender, race, ethnic origin, age or disability.

However, the attorney general of Nova Scotia countered no Canadian jurisdiction had ever granted a rate affordability program for poor power customers.

The Nova Scotia utility firm increased by 9.3 percent electricity rates in the province in the early part of 2009, while the case was pending before the federal Supreme Court.


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