01/11/2012 02:46 EST | Updated 03/12/2012 05:12 EDT

Alberta opposition NDP launches petition on high power bills as election looms

EDMONTON - The Alberta NDP has fired an early salvo in the upcoming election campaign with a petition drive to tap public discontent over high electricity prices.

"We're hoping to put pressure on the government to take action right away to freeze electricity prices and to begin the process of regulating our electricity system," party leader Brian Mason said Wednesday.

"Only regulation of electricity prices can ensure that people pay the lowest price possible and that the prices are, in fact, stable."

Mason said the idea came after scores of people contacted the party to complain about high power prices. Anyone not on fixed-rate contracts will pay a record 15 cents a kilowatt hour this month. That's double what was charged last January.

NDP candidates for the election will have copies of the petition when they go door-knocking so they can spread the word, he said.

Mason conceded the government could ignore the results, but suggested it would do so at its peril.

"Nothing that a political party in opposition does is going to have much effect unless they're speaking for the people," said Mason.

"Unless the public is behind what they're trying to do, the government is free to ignore them. The question is: Is the government willing to ignore the public on this issue?

"We'll see."

By law, the election must be held sometime in March, April or May.

The legislature's spring sitting is expected to begin early next month. Premier Alison Redford has said she won't drop the writ until after delivering a budget so that voters can see where she wants to take the party.

Alberta has had the biggest growth in power demand in Canada —about 3 1/2 per cent a year — compared with 2 1/2 per cent in the rest of the country.

The government is currently reviewing the province's overall power needs.

Two large north-south transmission lines fast-tracked under former premier Ed Stelmach were put on hold by Redford when she took over the Conservatives and became premier last October.

An expert panel is holding public hearings on whether the power is needed. Critics say the lines, which would be built at taxpayer expense, would be a massive and needless overbuild.

The panel is to report back with recommendations Feb. 10.

A third transmission line, running around the eastern edge of Edmonton, was approved late last year by Redford's government even though area reeves say there's no proof the extra electricity is needed.