B.C. cost of living keeps climbing

ICBC, Hydro rates and gas prices all increasing, affecting people on fixed incomes in Maple Ridge and Pitt Meadows

Life got tougher in B.C. on Tuesday as another round of fee hikes kicked in, following hard on others that took effect in the past few months.

As of Tuesday, B.C. Hydro electricity rates jump nine per cent, adding another $8 to a monthly household bill.

That will be coupled with a jump in natural gas prices, adding another $10 to a monthly Fortis heating bill.

And starting Jan. 1, Medical Service Plan premiums jumped to $69 a month for singles and $125 a month for couples. A family of two now pays $5 a month more in premiums than it did last year.

Add in higher gasoline prices, cutbacks to B.C. Ferries seniors’ discounts and everyone will pay another $20 or maybe $30 more a month, just for the basics.

It’s going to make it tough on the low-income families and seniors Candace Gordon sees monthly in her Golden Feast Community Kitchen program.

Gordon holds monthly communal cooking classes to show people how to prepare cheap and nutritious food.

“Thirty dollars is a lot of money for somebody on a fixed income. So it’s no small thing.”

Even now people have to sometimes scratch and scrape to come up with the $7 fee and many already are surviving on a monthly grocery budget of $200 or less, adds the former Maple Ridge councillor.

“It makes their lives more difficult. They’ll have less money to feed themselves. That’s where the $30 is going to come from.

“Most seniors want to be able to contribute. They’re trying so hard to maintain their independence.”

More people are also turning to the Friends in Need Food Bank in Maple Ridge for a monthly grocery hamper.

In March, 721 grocery hampers were given out. When operations manager Chuck Griffiths started four years ago, the usual number of was between 500 and 550.

“There are more clients coming in and they’re coming in more regularly.”

Meanwhile, the basic ICBC premium has increased by $36 yearly, or another $3 a month. However, reductions in optional coverage will reduce that to less than a $1 a month for motorists who carry optional ICBC coverage.

As well, this year’s transfer from the public auto insurer’s optional insurance profits to the province is expected to be $200 million.

Relief from higher natural gas prices may also come by fall.

“The market prices going forward do show a return to the lower prices,” said Michael Allison, with FortisBC.

April’s price of $4.64 per gigajoule is still about half what natural gas prices were in 2008-09.

While natural gas prices go up and down, Hydro electrical bills will keep climbing. Another $8 a month increase kicks in next year for homeowners, followed by smaller increases for the next four years.

By 2019, the average B.C. residential electricity bill for a month will be $110, compared to the current $90.

B.C. Hydro residential rates, though, are currently the third lowest in North America.

According to the NDP, since the B.C. Liberals took government office in 2001, Medical Service Plan premiums have doubled to a current rate of $1,728 for a family.

University tuition in B.C., also has doubled in the past 12 years.

The NDP also points out that ferry discounts for seniors will be cut in half and that the LiveSmart program, which gave incentives for businesses to become energy smart, also ended.

And, gasoline prices are expected to hit $1.50 a litre by summer. Regular gas was $1.44 a litre on Tuesday, up more than 15 per cent from the mid-December low of around $1.24.