The Ontario Energy Board has a number of appointments to the Board coming up. It is critically important to the long-term interests of both energy consumers and regulated energy companies that the Ontario government fill the position of the second Vice Chair, a position that the government has negligently left vacant for almost 18 months. The government must also ensure that all the new the Board appointees are full-time members with deep and up-to-date energy sector knowledge while being demonstrably free of bias. The Board’s conflict guidelines almost must be reformed to make them more fair to consumer interests.
As discussed in Part 32 of the “Ontario Electricity Regulation Crisis Report”, under Section 6 of the OEB Act, the Ontario government is responsible for appointing a chair and two Vice Chairs. Ignoring the explicit requirement of the legislation, the government has left the Board operating with a single Vice Chair for about a year and a half. The legal structure of the Board requires that the Chair and two Vice Chairs form the Management Committee of the Board. The Management Committee is empowered through a Memorandum of Understanding with the Ontario government to play key guidance and accountability roles for the organization. In the absence of a second Vice Chair, excessive power rests with the Chair, now held by Rosemarie Leclair. In Parts 32 and 42, I have raised concerns about bias against consumers on behalf of the Chair.
Diluting the Board with part-timers would marginalize the Board relative to the Chair and to keep Members on a short leash. Part-time Members are very likely to be conflicted and are always beholden to the Chair for the next bit of work. Because of their structural time limits, they aren’t involved in policy development, leaving the field to the Chair and staff, who are also highly influenced by the Chair’s whims for their job security.
Another concern that needs to be addressed is that the OEB’s conflict of interest rules effectively rule out the appointment of any energy sector professionals who have recently been engaged to represent broadly based consumer interests, although similarly qualified professionals representing utilities would be permitted under these rules. This anomaly arises because representatives of broadly based consumer interests are routinely active in many proceedings and would therefore be disqualified for a period of two years from deciding on any cases affecting any of those applicants. On the other hand, utility professionals normally work for a single client or few clients and would therefore not face the same sweeping disqualifications from deciding cases.