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The heat is on: Immigrants struggle with rising electricity costs

November 24, 2010

By Ora Morison

As soon as a new immigrant finds a home in Canada, the bills start adding up: food, water, a telephone, a bus pass, heat and more.

To make matters worse, the price of electricity will increase by 46 per cent over the next five years according to Ontario’s Liberal government.

And while it could take months or years for a new immigrant to find a job, bills like these won’t wait.  They will continue to arrive in the mailbox, and each one is for a service that often costs much more in Canada than it did in the immigrant’s home country.

“It’s hard for us,” Shaida Asadi said.

She and her son moved to Ottawa from Iran four months ago. In Iran, Asadi said two months’ worth of electricity cost the equivalent of $10. In Canada, her bill for the same time period was $176.

Over the next five years, Asadi will be paying even more. Her bill will have increased to $256.96 by 2015 based on the government’s projections.

Asadi’s husband is still in Iran working as a pharmacist. He sends Asadi money to pay her bills, but she is worried it won’t be enough if her costs keep rising. Asadi said she won’t be able to find work in Canada until she masters speaking English, so she is studying ESL. In the meantime, she still has to cook and heat the home using electricity.

Anna Volkova emigrated from the Ukraine with her husband and son in August. She has already noticed that electricity is one of her family’s biggest expenses.

“Maybe when my husband finds a good job it won’t be a problem, but for now it’s a problem,” Volkova said.

Anna Volkoya, who immigrated to Canada from the Ukraine in August, is unemployed but doesn’t mind paying more for electricity if it means a greener future for her son in Canada.

Ottawa Centre MPP Yasir Naqvi says money from electricity price increases will go toward restoring existing energy infrastructure and investing in renewable energy sources like solar and wind energy.

Naqvi said the coal energy we now rely on may be cheap, but is detrimental to air quality, causing asthma in children.

“We’re shutting down coal by 2014,” Naqvi said. “We’re almost there.”

Volkova agreed that cleaner sources of energy are important, even if it means paying more for electricity.

“Our children live on this planet and we must do something,” she said. Volkova said somehow she and her husband will find a way to pay the extra cost.

Asadi said Canada is well suited to create energy from natural resources.

“Canada is very windy,” she said. “There is a lot of wind and water.”

Naqvi says Ontarians can significantly reduce their electricity bill by reducing consumption.

“The more you conserve, the less hydro bill you pay,” he said.

And if that’s not enough, the provincial government says it will reduce electricity bills for low-income families like Volkova’s and Asadi’s by 10 per cent. The Ontario Clean Energy Benefit becomes effective on January 1, 2011 and will last for five years.

Naqvi said the 46 per cent increase over five years translates to approximately an eight per cent annual increase. After five years, the price of electricity is expected to stabilize.

While Volkova and Asadi are grateful for the 10 per cent benefit, they are reluctant to ask for more help from the government.

“I don’t need it,” Asadi said, repeating that her husband does have a job.

Volkova said Canada already provides her with access to free health care and child and family benefits, so she can’t ask for more from the government.

Jobless, facing the uncertainty that comes with a new culture, these two women are now facing higher costs of living, yet still seem happy just to be in Canada.

Follow Ora Morison on Twitter:  @orammorison

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