Toronto Hydro Ice Storm Town Hall Coming March 6

According to a note today issued by Gloria Lindsay Luby, Toronto City Councillor for Etobicoke Centre (Ward 4), the so-called “Independent Review Panel” responsible for assessing Toronto Hydro’s response to the December 2013 ice storm will hold a town hall meeting on Thursday, March 6. The purpose of the meeting is to provide the public with “an opportunity to comment on Toronto Hydro’s preparation for and response to the ice storm.”

Further text from Councillor Lindsay Luby’s note:

The City of Toronto is co-ordinating the meetings, which will take place from 7 to 9:30 p.m. in the council chambers at Etobicoke Civic Centre, 399 The West Mall.

Panel members will moderate each meeting. Torontonians may address the panel for three minutes each. Written comments will also be accepted. The panel has asked that Toronto Hydro representatives not be present at the meetings in order that Torontonians may speak freely. The panel will consider the information gathered in these meetings as it develops its findings and recommendations, to be published in a final report.

Customers and residents unable to attend one of these meetings can provide feedback to Davies Consulting LLC by email at torontoicestorm@daviescon.com.

The Independent Review Panel is composed of chair David McFadden, partner at Gowlings law firm; Sean Conway, visiting fellow at Ryerson University’s Centre for Urban Energy; Carlos Torres, vice-president of emergency management at Consolidated Edison of New York; and Joe Pennachetti, Toronto City Manager. Mr. Torres appears to be a recent addition to the panel.

While noting my high personal regard for Mr. McFadden and Mr. Conway, I have expressed concerns about the independence of the panel here. I have also noted here and here a similar process ongoing in Newfoundland & Labrador where the public has far stronger rights of participation and utility witnesses are required to testify under oath.

An additional concern about the panel’s independence that I should have included in my Jan 9th commentary relates to the role of Mr. McFadden. Mr. McFadden’s law firm, Gowlings, has a long history of representing utilities, including Toronto Hydro. (Post Script March 7, The highlighted section was included in the original posting and consistent with my “warts and all” policy of leaving my errors for all to see, it remains although I made this statement in error and apologize for its inclusion.) He has been a leading official Ontario government advocate for the so-called “Smart Grid”, including chairing the government’s Smart Grid Forum. Toronto Hydro has committed more ratepayer cash to Smart Grid than any other urban utility in Ontario. One of the key purposes of the Smart Grid all along was to deliver accurate return to service info to consumers. Throughout the ice storm, Toronto Hydro utterly failed to provide accurate information about return to service time as documented here. Why did this element of Toronto Hydro’s Smart Grid fail to deliver for consumers during the storm? On this subject, Mr. McFadden will be inquiring into his own previous advice.

Post Script March 4, 11:15am: This consultation process bears an uncanny resemblance to the typical notice-and-comment procedures that have, in recent years, become fashionable for governments interested in cultivating an image of public consultation while the real business happens away from public view. As outlined here, this consultation event is being convened simultaneously in three locations across the city, meaning that any individual presenter cannot speak to even a majority of the panel. Ontario citizens concerned about wind power development in their neighbourhoods are already too well familiar with this style of check-off-the-box consultation.

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