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Watchdogs rip loss of Hydro One oversight

By Antonella Artuso, Queen's Park Bureau Chief

A hydro tower in Toronto. (DAVE THOMAS, Toronto Sun)

A hydro tower in Toronto. (DAVE THOMAS, Toronto Sun)

TORONTO - 

Eight independent officers of the Ontario legislature have jointly signed a letter urging the Kathleen Wynne government to maintain their oversight of Hydro One.

“The officers are concerned that while the government intends to eventually hold 40% of Hydro One over the long term, their ability to assess its value and quality of service, among other matters, would be eliminated,” the letter says.

The officers say the government’s budget bill contains language that, if passed, would eliminate the ability of the auditor general of Ontario to conduct performance audits of Hydro One.

It would also prevent the information and privacy commissioner from overseeing Freedom of Information requests, and stop the financial accountability officer from examining the impact of Hydro One operations on consumers or the economy.

The budget bill would allow lobbyists to approach Hydro One without reporting their activities.

The integrity commissioner would no longer review expense claims, and the ombudsman could not investigate public complaints about the massive utility, the letter says.

Hydro One would also no longer be subject to the French Language Services Act.

The letter was signed by the information and privacy commissioner, the French language services commissioner, the provincial advocate for children and youth, the financial accountability officer, the auditor general, the ombudsman, the environmental commissioner, and the integrity commissioner.

In the legislature, Deputy Premier Deb Matthews said her government has strengthened the powers of independent officers, known informally as government watchdogs.

“I don’t think anyone’s trying to muzzle anyone,” Matthews said.

The Wynne government has announced it will sell off a 60% stake in Hydro One, using $5 billion of the anticipated proceeds to pay off electricity system debt and the remaining $4 billion to invest in infrastructure such as roads and transits.

No one private purchaser will be able to own more than 10% of Hydro One, and a two-thirds vote will be required to make any major change to the company, Matthews said.

Under these rules, Ontario will hold a controlling 40% share of the company, she said. As a publicly traded company, it will have different oversight mechanisms, she added.

The independent legislative officers say in their letter that the government will continue to receive revenue from Hydro One but Ontarians will have no operational information on the company.

One of the officers, ombudsman Andre Marin, is about to release his final report into billing and customer service practices at Hydro One based on almost 11,000 public complaints.

Under the changes in the budget bill, the ombudsman would not be able to respond in future to public concerns about Hydro One.

That role would be filled by an internal ombudsman who reports to Hydro One’s board of directors.

antonella.artuso@sunmedia.ca


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