Former Toronto Star journalist Tyler Hamilton denies my charge of corruption, reacting on his web site:
“These mischaracterizations are not only irresponsible and malicious, they are baseless and untrue”
“I have been completely above-board about what I do.”
“There has been absolutely no corrupt energy reporting, either outside of or inside the Toronto Star.”
“..if necessary I will consider my legal options to protect my reputation.”
In Part 1 of this series, I presented evidence suggesting that Tyler Hamilton has been paid to promote the Ontario government’s “Smart Grid” policies while producing articles purporting to be news extolling Smart Grid in the Toronto Star. In all of these articles, Hamilton failed to disclose his conflict of interest.
Hamilton pleads the purity of his commitment to Mother Earth. Hamilton tries to characterize the case against him as revolving around the question of why he was mentioned in government emails.
Denial aside, Hamilton’s reply confirms my key facts. Hamilton acknowledges that he entered into a contract with the IESO to support Smart Grid in a report issued in May 2011. Hamilton confirms this contract was signed “a few weeks” after November 23, 2010. On that date, I reported Ontario Power Authority VP and Hamilton’s friend, Ben Chin, proposed grea$ing Hamilton in an email exchange with his counterpart at the Ministry of Energy, Alicia Johnston. Hamilton acknowledges that he wrote Toronto Star news articles promoting Smart Grid, which I pointed out were during or soon after he was in the pay of the IESO.
My difference with Hamilton is whether journalists — even journalists deeply committed to the preservation of Mother Earth — must declare conflicts of interest — even financial conflicts of interest — in their reporting.
Part 1 referenced two of Hamilton’s Smart Grid promo articles in the Star published during or soon after he was in the pay of the IESO. In each case, Hamilton neglected to mention his conflict of interest. Here are two more: “Ontario: A bright light for smart grid innovation published February 18, 2011 and Smart grid: Delayed delivery published June 29, 2011.
In his denial, Hamilton volunteers important new facts. The IESO has contracted a second time with Hamilton, an engagement that appears to be ongoing. His acknowledged compensation from the IESO is $34,800. He also provides additional dates, which I will return to later, expanding our knowledge of the surrounding time line.
Hamilton’s denial includes a remark that when the 2011 Smart Grid report was issued, he noted his conflict on his blog. From his original blog post:
Disclosure: I was contracted by the IESO to prepare this report so am reserving comment.
Nowhere does his denial address why he did not offer the same honesty to Toronto Star readers.
Hamilton reported on conflict of interest as it applies to others in this 2007 Toronto Star article. His 2007 article reported on those of us who identified and were concerned about a conflict of interest at the Ontario Power Authority. As an experienced business journalist and having earned a degree in Political Science and Legal Philosophy, he is versed in conflict of interest.
As his blog note makes clear, Hamilton knew he had a conflict of interest before he published Smart Grid promo articles in the Star during and after his IESO engagement. Why would he deny the obvious now in response to my evidence?
Being straight with his Star readers at the time would have diminished his value to Team McGuinty. As we will see from the emails, Team McGuinty needed “to get him out as an ‘expert’ commentator” specifically to counter Adams. Hamilton was playing his part in a scheme to manipulate the public when he turned a willful blind eye to his duty to Star readers.
Now, confronted, his persistent denial deepens his disgrace.
Hamilton’s appearance in government emails authored by Ben Chin and Alicia Johnston has no direct bearing on Hamilton’s ethics. Rather, the email exchange shows the unethical character of both Chin and Johnston.
Here is the complete exchange. In parentheses after each, I have added comments sorting out their jargon:
From: Ben Chin
To: Johnston, Alicia (MEl)
Sent: Tue Nov 23 23:50:09 2010
Subject: Re: 20 year price perspective
Yes I heard. All good. He’s been very good throughout this, and other than CA my only ally on swgta. Good thing he’s here.
(The subject line suggests that the “he” referred to is probably Amir Shalaby, another of the OPA’s VPs. “CA” appears to refer to Colin Anderson, CEO of the OPA. “Swgta” refers to Southwest GTA, the TransCanada Oakville project, which the reason this email exchange was disclosed to the gas scandal inquiry.)
From: Johnston, Alicia (MEl) [mailto:Aiicia.Johnston@ontario.ca]
Sent: Tuesday, November 23, 2010 11 :54 PM
To: Ben Chin
Subject: Re: 20 year price perspective
I’ll call him tomorrow to thank him-we couldn’t have done this without him.
Just got off the phone with Tyler H who had a few qs.
We’ve got to get him out as an “expert” commentator. Tom Adams and Parker Gallant are killing me.
(“Him” is probably another reference to Amir Shalaby.)
Re: 20 year price perspective
Tue Nov 23 2010 23:59:59 EST
Yeah at least no one believes Parker. Tom on the other hand. In the sector very very dangerous and beyond our control. Good idea to call Amir. We need him. And make Tyler feel special. We need to throw him some work. He doesn’t need it, but everyone likes feeling wanted. I really want to engage him for central. It would be a good score.
As we learned in the gas scandal proceedings, Johnston moved up from the Energy Minister’s office to a new job in the Premier’s office in February 2011, after Hamilton was firmly on board. If her bosses knew of her November 2010 plan with Chin to get Hamilton “engaged for central”, her bosses didn’t seem to mind. Her unethical qualities were exposed to public view at that inquiry August 27th where she set a new standard for obfuscation by Liberal government witnesses.
One of the commentators on Part 1 of this series, Mike Hilson, summarizes the Chin/Johnston exchange accurately and concisely:
Government employees wanting favorable news coverage to support their dubious agenda conspired to use Tyler Hamilton and the Star by offering him paid work and flattery.
I noted in Part 1 that Chin has been alerted to the ethical challenges arising from his switch from journalism to politics. Chin obviously works on a different level. The email exchange makes it clear that Chin and Johnston together set out to engage Hamilton as their handmaiden at the Star.
In his anger, Hamilton’s denial captures the essence of the decision taken by Chin and Johnston as well as his own later involvement. Hamilton’s reflection on the exchange contains this moment of clarity:
It confirms the stereotype of communications professionals — that they manipulate journalists and the public.
What set off Johnston’s alarm bells about Parker Gallant and Adams? Here are two likely candidate columns from the National Post, mine appearing the same day this Chin/Johnston exchange occurred.
In his denial, Hamilton relies on the fact that the IESO invited him on Oct. 27, 2010 to quote on the Smart Grid project, before Chin suggested to Johnston that Hamilton be “engaged for central”. Again, the timing of the Chin/Johnston exchange may have no direct implications for Hamilton. However, this exchange exposes Chin as the puppet master and Johnston as his co-conspirator, scheming to engage Hamilton for the express purpose of countering my negative comments about the government’s energy direction.
Remember that Chin rose to his post as an Ontario Power Authority VP after working as McGuinty’s top communications advisor and also after a run at provincial parliament for Team McGuinty. In his last full year of employment at the OPA, Chin took in $247k from ratepayers without counting his pension entitlements. Chin brought his clout to the OPA at the point when the Green Energy Act — which signalled a massive politicization of the OPA and the power system generally — was being passed in the Legislature. Chin’s job was to ensure that the OPA transitioned away from its previously more independent role, to anticipate issues that might concern “central”, and to make sure solutions were in place. Chin would not have proposed Hamilton be “engaged for central” had Chin not felt confident that Hamilton could be trusted to counter me effectively while remaining faithful to Team McGuinty.
The IESO’s timing in approaching Hamilton also raises an unsettling questions about the independence of the IESO. The Ontario government has a lot at stake with Smart Grid. The 2011 report Hamilton worked on estimated that the Smart Grid investment by Ontario utilities over the next 5 years will total $1.95 billion. What is preventing Smart Grid from turning into a vast slush fund?
Last week, I sought from the IESO the Request for Quotation under which Hamilton was retained. Here it is:
Notice at page 5/12, the date of the RFQ release was November 8th. The IESO gave Hamilton a 12 day head start on what the IESO told me by email, as reported in Part 1, was a “competitive procurement”.
Hamilton also reports in his denial that his contract with the IESO was signed “a few weeks after” the November 23 email exchange between Chin and Johnston. Again, cross-referencing this information against the RFQ indicates that the IESO extended its closing date for the RFQ by at least a week.
This timing evidence strongly suggests that the Chin and the IESO set up a phoney competition to “engage (Hamilton) for central”. The fix was in. Hamilton knew the fix was in. Other respondents to the IESO’s “competitive procurement” were wasting their time.
In its “Newsroom Policy and Journalistic Standards Guide“, the Toronto Star is admirably clear about the ethical significance of conflicts of interest.
“It is not proper for journalists to be both actors and critics.”
After setting out an absolute prohibition for business section staff reporting on subjects in which they have a financial interest, the Standards Guide makes the following declaration regarding freelancers:
For freelance columnists whose work for the Star is based on their expertise as investors, there is an exception to this general policy. This dual role must be clearly acknowledged in a tagline at the end of their columns.
To summarize, there are two ethical infractions here:
1. Chin and Johnston conspired to grea$e the press.
2. Hamilton concealed his conflict of interest from Toronto Star readers.
Infraction #1 should disqualify Chin from any public guardian responsibilities. Infraction #2 should disqualify Hamilton from being taken seriously as a journalist.
Hamilton’s denial is saying that he welcomes the next client seeking stealth PR so long as their green credentials are in order.
Hamilton is today an associate professor at York University, Faculty of Environmental Studies (where I obtained my Master’s degree). Is Hamilton’s failure to disclose his conflict and his refusal to accept responsibility acceptable to York FES?
Is Hamilton’s failure to disclose his conflict acceptable to the Toronto Star? Why did his editors not connect the dots between his blog post with his conflict warning and his columns on related subjects presented without the warning?
Future editions of this Corrupt Electricity Reporting series will return to these questions.
Post Script (September 5 8:15 pm): The IESO reports that it is normal practice to notify potential respondents in advance that competitive procurements are to be posted at a future date. The IESO also reports that multiple responses were received to the RFQ discussed above.