Ontario’s Ombudsman Andre Marin is a menace to electricity consumers. He should be replaced when his term, extended this afternoon by a motion in the legislature, expires in September.
The Ombudsman’s recent amateurish, hyper ventilating report on Hydro One billing practices has received an ocean of uncritical reporting and commentary. Marin’s analysis does not support his conclusions.
Central to Marin’s analysis are his allegations that Hydro One is guilty of lying, systematic deceit, and obstruction of his investigation.
Marin’s evidence on these points is pitifully weak.
For example, here his entire discussion claiming to prove that Hydro One deliberately mislead the Ontario Energy Board about its billing problems:
133 On August 22, 2013, Ontario Energy Board officials toured the Markham call centre with Hydro One officials, who failed to enlighten them about the problems associated with the new customer information system. In September 2013, the board sent an email inquiry to Hydro One, asking about billing concerns it was hearing about from MPPs. A Hydro One official responded that about 10,000 customers had not received bills since the transition to the new customer information system, and mentioned that there were other “small groupings of issues related to budget billing, but other than that, nothing systemic.” Hydro One minimized the problem, assuring the board that bills would be out by the end of September, if not before.
134 When the problem of estimated bills persisted, the board wrote to Hydro One again on October 23, 2013, expressing concern. It acknowledged Hydro One’s offer to affected customers of a six-month, interest-free billing plan, but noted that it was still receiving an increasing number of complaints about billing and metering. The Ontario Energy Board has continued to monitor Hydro One’s progress in addressing areas it identified for corrective action.
Marin is a former assistance Crown prosecutor and should have some sense about the burden of proof he carries to support any claim that Hydro One was deliberately keeping the Ontario Energy Board in the dark. Claiming without context or documentation that information provided on some tour omitted some facts or that a particular email from Hydro One to the Ontario Energy Board was inadequate in unspecified ways does not begin to satisfy his burden of proof.
Who was on the tour? What was its purpose? Who said what? Where is the offending email he relies upon? Where does that email fit into the corpus of communication between Hydro One and the OEB on the relevant issues? None of these questions appear to interest Marin. His purpose is to inflame, not to inform.
Marin is unalert to the fact that all the billing issues he reports on ultimately boil down to questions of cost allocation between consumers. In March, he held a press conference to demand that “no one should be cut off” for non-payment. Within 3 weeks, Hydro One’s arrears accounts increased 6%. Marin’s report indicates no awareness of this fact.
Ultimately, the cost of such bad debt is borne by the consumers to who pay their bills. By amplifying bad debt, Marin is increasing the burden on Hydro One’s paying consumers.
It makes no sense to consider the “compassion” Marin demands for customers in arrears out of context for the compassion paying customers deserve. Marin’s report is silent on the extent of the bad debt problem at Hydro One. Nowhere does Marin recognize that 20% of Hydro One’s distribution accounts are in arrears. This is a shocking figure that deserves attention and solutions. Marin’s bloviating about “no one should be cut off” for non-payment just makes the problem worse.
Marin’s demand in the form of a recommendation that Hydro One reveal to customers in arrears all the details customers need to game the system to avoid disconnection is more ill-considered nonsense.
It appears that Marin played with the timing of the release of his report to promote his reappointment campaign. Marin’s unsubstantiated allegations of dishonesty have been carelessly repeated by the media and politicians seeking advantage, a tendency that Marin appears to have relied upon.
There is no doubt that Hydro One has made terrible mistakes in its billing practices. But, Marin’s whole intervention into the Hydro One billing problems is likely to make the collection problems at Hydro One worse, not better.
Hydro One’s customers are rightly alarmed about soaring electricity costs, but Marin is only making that problem worse. If it was functioning properly, the Ontario Energy Board would be a far better forum than an ombudsman to weigh the relevant billing issues, such as the interests of paying vs. non-paying consumers. Sadly, the current Ontario government is steadily eroding the capacity of the OEB to protect the public interest. Keeping Marin on the job because the OEB is weak would be to prefer a Bandaid over a real solution.
Marin is a menace and should not be reappointed.