No contempt in Hydro One, ombudsman dealings, speaker rules
Hydro One officials are accused of misleading the Ministry of Energy about the extent of its billing problems.
Ontario Ministry of Energy
Ontario Provincial Police
TORONTO — The Speaker of the Ontario legislature has ruled that there was no contempt of parliament in the Hydro One dealings with the provincial ombudsman and the government.
The Progressive Conservatives complained after ombudsman Andre Marin accused officials at Hydro One of misleading, and even lying, to him and the Ministry of Energy about the extent of its billing problems.
Marin included a chapter called “Obstructing the Ombudsman” in his report to the legislature on Hydro One’s “abominable” treatment of customers who received faulty bills.
The Tories say Marin was investigating complaints MPPs raised on behalf of their constituents, and lying to the ombudsman, an officer of the legislature, was the same as misleading them.
But Speaker Dave Levac ruled there was no contempt and no breach of a member’s privilege because the ombudsman never said he was unable to complete his investigation into Hydro One.
Energy Minister Bob Chiarelli unknowingly used misinformation from Hydro One in the legislature, but no one alleged he intentionally misled the house, which Levac calls a “cardinal sin” in parliament.
It’s clear the legislature was misled because of wrong information provided by Hydro One, “but the Speaker effectively slammed the door in my face today,” said PC house leader Steve Clark after Levac’s ruling.
“I was very surprised it was such a weak ruling,” he said.
Hydro One CEO Carmine Marcello has insisted his officials did nothing wrong and co-operated with the ombudsman’s investigation into complaints from 10,700 customers about erroneous electricity bills.
The Conservatives have also asked the Ontario Provincial Police to investigate the ombudsman’s claims that he was lied to by officials at Hydro One.
PC Leader Patrick Brown announced he was setting up a website to oppose the government’s planned sale of 60% of Hydro One to the private sector, weeks after the NDP set up a similar website of their own.
The New Democrats flatly oppose any sale of the giant transmission utility, which also serves as a local electricity distributor for 1.3 million customers, and want Premier Kathleen Wynne to hold a referendum before any sale of Hydro One.
The Tories are not opposed to selling provincial assets, but say the government should retain majority ownership of Hydro One, and warn it will lose control of the agency – and electricity rates – once it sells 60% to private investors.
“If we are the minority stakeholder, we are not in control of those rate increases,” warned Brown. “I will work with anyone, whether that is the NDP or anyone that wants to stop a deal that does not serve the best interest of Ontario.”
The opposition parties are also concerned that the ombudsman and the provincial auditor will lose any oversight of Hydro One once the budget bill passes later this week, approving the Liberals’ plan to privatize the utility.
Wynne said the Liberals campaigned last year on a plan to maximize the value of provincial assets such as Hydro One to raise money for infrastructure projects, and were returned with a majority government.
© 2015 The Canadian Press