Wynne rebuffs calls to fire Chiarelli over smart meters
Premier, energy minister disagree with AG’s conclusion the program is almost double the projected cost.
TORONTO — Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne ignored opposition calls to fire her energy minister over a critical report on the government’s smart meter program and “sexist” comments he made about the auditor general.
The premier and Energy Minister Bob Chiarelli disagree with the auditor general’s conclusions that the $2-billion smart meter program has so far spent double its projected cost, has passed on extra costs to ratepayers and has not led to the government’s electricity conservation goals being met.
Chiarelli said following the report’s release Dec. 9 that Auditor General Bonnie Lysyk’s numbers were wrong and premised on estimates. Lysyk spent 10 years working at Manitoba Hydro.
“Why are my numbers more credible than hers?” Chiarelli said, in response to questions after the report’s release. “First of all the electricity system is very complex. It’s very difficult to understand.”
He went on to say that when his staff met with the auditor’s staff they were left with the impression that the auditors did not understand some elements.
Chiarelli said Wednesday that all of his comments were about the staff.
“I have no idea whether those representatives were male or female,” he said, insisting he was very respectful of Lysyk.
But both the Progressive Conservatives and the New Democrats saw it differently, repeatedly calling for Chiarelli’s head in a raucous question period.
NDP Leader Andrea Horwath said the Liberal government wasted money on smart meters and shot the messenger by “attacking” the auditor general with patronizing and “sexist” comments.
“I nearly fell off my chair when the minister treated the auditor general with such dismissive disrespect,” Horwath said after question period. “I don’t believe he would have behaved that way if there was a different gendered person sitting in that chair. That made me quite angry as a woman.”
Wynne did not directly respond to calls to fire her minister, standing by his disagreement with Lysyk’s figures, but noting it’s “really important” the government has a respectful relationship with all the officers of the legislature.
“It is not unprecedented that there would be some small area of disagreement between the government and the auditor general,” she said in question period.
Progressive Conservatives also went after Chiarelli, with Christine Elliott saying that Chiarelli accused Lysyk of being in over her head.
“I find it quite insulting as a woman for him to have made those comments yesterday and it does reflect that sort of mindset that is extremely outdated and very chauvinistic,” she said after question period.
Fellow Tory Lisa MacLeod noted that she used to be the party’s critic of the energy system.
“It’s not that complex,” she said.
Lysyk wrote in her report that the government decided to mandate smart meters in Ontario before it did a cost-benefit analysis and when the analysis ultimately was done, it was flawed and its projected net benefit of $600 million was overstated by at least $512 million.
“As a result, electricity ratepayers in Ontario are paying significantly more for this initiative in their monthly electricity bills than was originally intended,” she wrote.
Peak electricity demand actually rose slightly between 2004 and 2010, Lysyk found.
Elliot compared the smart meter program to the Liberals’ decision to cancel two gas plants before the 2011 election, at a cost of up to $1.1 billion.
“We thought we had seen it all when we saw a billion dollars lost in the gas plant scandal,” she said in the legislature.
“Now we learn that you and your reappointed energy minister have doubled down by wasting $2 billion more on smart meters that don’t work. The $2 billion in costs have raised energy prices on families and seniors who now can’t even afford to turn on a space heater. There’s nothing smart about wasting $2 billion and getting no results.”
Wynne replied that the smart meter program has seen “concrete success” on the ground.
© 2014 The Canadian Press