This morning, I was interviewed by Tom McConnell at radio station CKTB610 in Niagara. The interview addressed various electricity subjects, such as coming rate increases and surplus power. Most of the interview focused my investigation of the government’s plan to employ Tyler Hamilton, then a columnist at the Toronto Star, to counter my negative comments with positive news reports about their electricity policies.
McConnell is one of the leading journalists in Ontario tracking electricity developments, with particular attention to rising rates.
When McConnell invited me on, I recommended: “It would be great to have Tyler Hamilton on too. My preference would be head to head, but he might not go for it. I’m not holding out for perfect.”
Hamilton responded to the request from the station to participate by way of email and put up this post on his web site. (Post Script September 22: At the time this posting was originally published, the linked post on Mr. Hamilton’s site contained significant statements. Hamilton later attempted to erase that record, but as documented in the comments below, we have archived a copy of the original here.)
Most of his posted email to the radio station is included in this CKTB610 posting. Disappointingly, as of this writing, a podcast of my interview is not yet available.
A key element of Hamilton’s response to the invitation to appear is this threat by Hamilton against the radio station:
“I am exploring my legal options against him and any other individual or organization that recklessly spreads his baseless allegations.”
In his anger, Hamilton is careless about some key facts.
He says, “Contrary to what Mr. Adams contends, I did publicly disclose that I had written the IESO report on my blog”. In Part 2 of this series, I posted his blog disclaimer in a highlighted section and contrasted his blog disclaimer with his Star non-disclosure as evidence of Hamilton’s deliberate concealment toward Star readers.
Hamilton acknowledges only two of the four columns I have cited as evidence of his failure to declare his conflict of interest.
The core of Hamilton’s denial is this statement: “I did not write about government smart grid policy”.
Here are two quotations from one of the articles I have cited, written in the midst of his first IESO engagement, called “Ontario a bright light for smart grid innovation”. Next to each is a quotation from the IESO Smart Grid report issued in May 2011.
Toronto Star: “For example, several years ago General Electric chose Markham as the global hub of its transmission and distribution automation business. The company does research, development, manufacturing, training and global technical support out of its Ontario operation, which employs about 400 people “” 150 of them development engineers.”
IESO Report: “Evidence of (Ontario’s) leadership came in March, when General Electric announced plans to build a $40-million smart grid innovation centre at its existing site in Markham. The centre, according to the company, will be a ‘destination for companies and countries seeking to upgrade their energy systems.'”
Toronto Star: “This spring, the Ontario government is expected to launch a $50 million fund for smart grid research and demonstration projects.”
IESO report: “In its 2009 Ontario Budget, the government also allocated $50 million for the creation of a Smart Grid Fund to support advancement of smart grid technologies through demonstration projects.”
Hamilton’s Toronto Star article purporting to be news is indistinguishable from the IESO report that Hamilton was retained to support with writing services.
His Toronto Star article bears the hallmarks of a soft-sell government press release.
Hamilton attempts to ascribe motives to my investigation, claiming that my concerns about journalistic ethics arise from ideology. What is the ideological persuasion for folks who don’t think conflicts of interest should be declared by journalists?
Post Script (Sept 5 9:29PM EDT) Since this post was originally published, Tyler Hamilton has removed from his web site, www.cleanbreak.ca, most of the content of the posting linked to above in paragraph 4. The removed content was a letter he wrote to radio station CKTB610 in response to their invitation to appear on their station to address my criticisms. Some of the content from the removed post is still available from the link above in paragraph 6. The missing content included Hamilton complaining about me being discourteous toward him and his suggestion that my income should be investigated. If anyone has an archive copy, please feel free to post it here.
My practice is to leave up my history for anyone who cares to see my work, warts and all. I do make minor edits that don’t change intended meanings (I have a terrible time catching my own typos and grammatical errors) and a few other minor changes. I want my readers to feel confident that they don’t need to fuss with mirror sites and archives to see my historical arguments, judgements, or facts.
The Province handed out $7.9 million to GE as a grant from the $50 million fund as noted here: http://www.smartgridelectronics.net/2011/03/ge-announces-new-40m-grid-iq%E2%84%A2-innovation-centre-in-markham-ontario/ and I penned an article about how much money was being spent/granted to make the grid and the meters smart. It was posted here: http://ep.probeinternational.org/2011/04/30/ontario-ministry-of-energy-not-so-smart-spending/
So the question on my mind is why did Hydro One need to replace my smart meter just last month? They told me it wouldn’t communicate! They also had to replace meters about three years ago in Georgina Twp. for the same reason. Hamilton touting the benefits of those reputed smart meters and smart grid sounds a lot like the Liberals needed a mouthpiece to deflect what was actually happening and he obliged and got paid to do so. Guess who picked up the costs–oh, the ratepayers of the province. Now did we get value for the money spent? My opinion is a big fat NO!
Never has so much incompetence been inflicted on the taxpayers and ratepayers of this province as we have witnessed in the past 9 years!
I noticed over at Ontario Wind Resistance that Tyler has some entrepreneurial friends:
The Canadian Business Journal
â€œI met Tyler last summer at a secluded retreat in the cottage country about 3 hours outside of Toronto.â€ Jointly owned by Nicholas Parker and Maurice Strong.
Linkedin, Nicholas Parker
He serves on several advisory boards including Bright Capital, Clinton Global Initiative, Singapore Energy Advisory Panel, Centre of Excellence for Commercialization of Research, Inspired Evolution Investment, Network for Business Sustainability and, until recently, the Premierâ€™s Climate Change Advisory Panel. From 2003-08, he was Chairman of E+Co, the award-winning social investment company for clean energy in developing countries.
Co-Founder & Chairman The Cleantech Group LLC : The Cleantech Group recently acquired GreenOrder, a leading strategy consulting group that helps companies gain competitive advantage through environmental innovation, including GE, DuPont, General Motors, HP, JPMorgan Chase, Pfizer, Polo Ralph Lauren, and several of the largest electric utilities in the U.S.
I think that most Canadians recognize that corrupt dictatorships like Stalin’s Soviet Union and Hitler’s Germany use control of the media to survive. What many don’t realize is that corruption is insidious and can start with a cup of coffee. Tyler Hamilton should read some Jane Jacobs to discover what the appropriate role of a free press (a guardian function) is in a functioning democracy. Ironically, Hamilton wasn’t corrupted by a business interest, but by government officials sworn to uphold the public interest. Sadly, in today’s Canada, the lines are all blurred (public private partnerships, governments conducting inappropriate business, monopolies in bed with regulators) and most people find they have to ignore their own conflicts of interest to keep their families in the style they are accustomed to. Hilariously, Tyler Hamilton acknowledged this in his self-righteous tirade to AM610 :
” As you may know, most freelance writers do not survive on newspaper articles alone if they in any way expect to make a living.”
It was perhaps an inadvertency for Hamilton to not disclose at the time his being on the payroll of the government. There is probably truly nothing malicious or devious there. But what’s disappointing is his premature and extremely defensive reaction. Why not just explain that he should have disclosed and will endeavour to print a note or letter in the Star advising readers of his job with the government (retractions of the articles shouldn’t be necessary)?
This isn’t a right-left thing either. Margaret Wente is nothing if not right-wing. Many people, of various political persuasions, think she and the Globe and Mail mishandled her obvious ethical lapses. I hope the Star and Hamilton calm down, have a little think, and do the right thing.
(And if you read this Tyler: I’m not right wing. I think you have written quite a few good articles. And I support government involvement in the electricity sector, in R&D and financing. And I like nuclear energy. )
Mr. Adams, you may recall, in Tyler Hamilton’s blog from August 30, 2013, he lets it slip that Ontario Energy Minister Brad… “Duguid told me once, at a press event long after he left the energy portfolio, that he once considered approaching me as his communications director.” Why would Mr. Hamilton volunteer this new information?
During the highly questionable witching-hour email exchange November 23, 2010, between Brad Duguid’s Communication’s Director – Alicia Johnston and Ben Chin, Mr. Chin explained he… “really wants to engage Tyler for central, it would be a good score.”
Is it possible that Mr. Chin and Ms. Johnston knew by November 23, 2013, they would have to make a “Clean Break” from their respective Communications positions as the Liberal gas scandal unfolded, and is it possible that they “really wanted” Mr. Hamilton to replace Ms. Johnston? A timeline of the comings and goings of Johnston and Chin may shed light on this issue…
Regardless, Mr. Hamilton only has himself to blame for his conflicted participation in the Chin/Johnston spider-web. However, Mr. Chin and Ms. Johnston must answer for engaging Mr. Hamilton into his conflict of interest.
The time has come for Mr. Hamilton’s editors at the Toronto Star to respond to the allegations made against Mr. Hamilton.
Keep digging and probing for the truth…
Is this the archive you’re looking for? The link is still working here:
Full disclosure: Why I was mentioned in Ontario government e-mails
On Monday I learned that my name was mentioned as part of an e-mail exchange between Alicia Johnston, who was director of communications for then-Ontario Energy Minister Brad Duguid, and Ben Chin, who at the time was vice-president of communications at the Ontario Power Authority. The 2010 e-mail exchange, which I wasnâ€™t aware of, was part of documents released as part of an Ontario legislative committee probe into the former McGuinty governmentâ€™s so-called gas plant scandal.
Some bloggers and Tweeters who have disagreed with my writing in the past, including my passionate support of clean energy and other climate change solutions, have taken it upon themselves to read into the limited content within this e-mail exchange to, in effect, defame me. For example, one blog post by an outspoken Ontario energy analyst shows up on a Google search with the title â€œCorrupt Reporting by the Toronto Starâ€™s Tyler Hamilton.â€ One Tweet by a veteran Canadian right-wing journalist was titled: â€œCorrupt Electricity Reporting at the Toronto Star.â€ These mischaracterizations are not only irresponsible and malicious, they are baseless and untrue.
This blog post aims to set the record straight by providing as much context as I can. First, letâ€™s look at the November 23, 2010 e-mail exchange itself:
Alicia Johnston writes at 11:54 p.m that: â€œJust got off the phone with Tyler H who had a few qs. Weâ€™ve got to get him out as an â€˜expertâ€™ commentator.â€
About six minutes later, Ben Chin comments on other aspects of Johnstonâ€™s e-mail, and at the end replies: â€œAnd make Tyler feel special. We need to throw him some work. He doesnâ€™t need it, but everyone likes feeling wanted. I really want to engage him for central. It would be a good score.â€
At the time of this exchange, I was not a staff reporter for the Toronto Star. After 10 years of reporting â€” first on technology and telecom, later on energy issues â€“ I decided I wanted to write a book on clean energy innovation based on all the interesting entrepreneurs, academics and business leaders I had interviewed over the years. The newspaper was into its second round of downsizing since I had been hired (itâ€™s now on round four) so I decided in early 2010 to take a voluntary package from the newspaper. Come April 2010 I was on my own, had secured a book deal with a local publisher in the Beaches, and spent the next six months researching and writing. Throughout this time, and up until early March of this year, I was still writing a weekly column on clean energy technologies as a freelance writer. I also became an adjunct professor of environmental studies at York University.
Now, back to the timing of the e-mail exchange in question. I have gone through my own e-mails and tracked down one back-and-forth I had with Johnston on November 24, 2010, a day after the exchange. Johnston was acknowledging a telephone chat I had with her on the 23rd, telling me it was good to talk and basically saying stay in touch. That chat was the first I had ever had with her, and possibly the last. The e-mail was one of the first as well. I believe I called her to get background comment on the governmentâ€™s revised Long-Term Energy Plan, as this is what I wrote about in my Star column and Clean Break blog immediately after.
Why would Johnston later tell Chin that they should get me out as an â€œexpertâ€ commentator? Well, as someone who created a column in Canadaâ€™s largest newspaper for the specific purpose of writing about the benefits of and progress around clean energy and energy conservation, I am in principle supportive of the provinceâ€™s Green Energy Act and its general direction. Why wouldnâ€™t they think this way? I like solar. I like wind. I believe in energy conservation. Iâ€™m a big believer in the potential of the smart grid. I love to highlight solutions and be constructive. I consider long-term planning that addresses climate and environmental concerns as just â€” if not more â€” important than day-to-day economic concerns, like the price of gas falling by 2 cents on a long weekend. This is my bias â€” hell, Iâ€™m an adjunct professor of environmental studies! â€” and I have always worn it on my sleeve. The Toronto Star knew this. So did readers. As a columnist, I tried as best I could to back my personal opinions or stories with good, balanced research. The bottom line: you were, and still are, unlikely to see me encourage the province to open up more inefficient coal plants so we can make electricity cheaper but make people sicker.
Now, on to the strange e-mail reply that came from Ben Chin. I will admit at this point that I consider Chin a friend, both at the time he wrote the e-mail and even now. I didnâ€™t know him personally when he started at the power authority, but I did know and respect him from a distance when he was a young TV reporter covering the Paul Bernardo murder trial in Toronto. We had a coyote/sheepdog relationship, able to separate personal from professional. After he left the power authority and I left my staff position at the Star, we stayed in touch. We lived in the same neighbourhood and would occasionally go for a beer. In September 2011, in fact, I invited Chin (who had left the power authority and moved to B.C.) to my book launch to say a few words.
Thatâ€™s why it angered me to learn of Chinâ€™s e-mail. Itâ€™s patronizing. Itâ€™s offensive. It confirms the stereotype of communications professionals â€” that they manipulate journalists and the public. I confronted Chin with his e-mail earlier this week, and this was his reply: â€œI canâ€™t regret that enough. Sorry. The way I made you sound. Just stupid on my part. Whatever I meant by that, and I honestly canâ€™t remember, it wasnâ€™t that.â€
With respect to the most contentious part of Chinâ€™s e-mail â€” The â€œWe need to throw him some workâ€ comment â€” some online commentators have recklessly used that comment to accuse me of somehow being in the pocket of the Liberal government, hence subject lines like â€œCorrupt Electricity Reportingâ€¦â€ Iâ€™ll let my past reporting and column writing speak for itself. While generally supportive of the direction of the governmentâ€™s energy plan, and a believer of the clean technologies behind it, I have also been critical of its implementation and specific aspects of the governmentâ€™s plan. I have vocally disagreed with plans to build new nuclear plants, I have been highly critical of the governmentâ€™s politically motivated decision to put a moratorium on offshore wind, I have written about past conflicts-of-interest on the power authorityâ€™s board of directors, I have blamed the government and power authority for foot-dragging, I have questioned the structure and pricing around the feed-in tariff program, and many times Iâ€™ve criticized the government for neglecting energy conservation. Iâ€™ll add that I did this while at the same time trying to be constructive. Indeed, even the Ontario PC Party has used my columns to support their attack on Liberal policy, as recently as October 2012. (NR-FITDelays Oct5)
But has the Ontario Power Authority or the Ministry of Energy ever â€œthrownâ€ me work? I have never received payment, whether for writing services or anything else, from the power authority or the ministry. Duguid told me once, at a press event long after he left the energy portfolio, that he once considered approaching me as his communications director. I can tell you now: not interested.
Post-Toronto Star and after finishing my book, I was pretty much a full-time freelance writer who was open to taking on research writing assignments, and even as editor at Corporate Knights magazine, I do the occasional research writing as part of Corporate Knights Inc. when I have a moment and if I have a personal interest in the work. For those who are asking, here is full disclosure on that front for work I did for a different agency of government:
On Oct. 27, 2010, I was invited by the Independent Electricity System Operator, which manages supply and demand on the provincial grid, to bid on a writing/research project related to its Smart Grid Forum. A combination of my knowledge of the subject area, my experience writing, and my relatively low per-hour rate helped me win the assignment. Basically, it would take the form of an annual update of all smart grid-related activities in the province, and make recommendations on how the province should move ahead. Iâ€™d sit in on meetings with utility, government, academic and private-sector representatives participating in the forum, take notes, and basically convert a whole lot of information into a readable, 35-page document for public release. The whole process took about five months. Here it is here. I alerted readers of my blog of the availability of this document on May 3, 2011, and fully disclosed that I was the one who prepared it. I did not write about the document in my weekly Toronto Star column, and I made it clear to the IESO that I would not do so. I have, of course, written columns about the smart grid in general â€” something I have consistently championed in my writing for several years.
I estimated in total I would need about 105 hours to attend meetings, research, write, edit, and proof the report. My fee was $150 an hour, working out to a little less than $16,000 for the five-month project. I ended up working more hours because of several rounds of requested edits and some delays on the part of the forum, so my final bill was $19,800. On a per-word basis, which is how writers usually charge for their work, it worked out to $1.40 a word. Thatâ€™s cheap in the world of professional report writing, and on par with what some of the top magazine writers make.
Looking at the e-mail exchange between Chin and Johnston, I can see why it has drawn attention. I was approached by the IESO before this e-mail exchange took place, but I was awarded the contract a few weeks after. Iâ€™m a journalist, so Iâ€™m skeptical by nature. Did officials from the ministry and OPA put pressure on the IESO, which is supposed to be an â€œindependentâ€ agency, to hire me for something the agency had asked me to bid for in the first place? I guess itâ€™s possible. But it seems a stretch. And the fact is, since then I have been hired back once by the IESO to write another smart grid-related report â€” this one similar in size but for $15,000 and to be used, initially Iâ€™m told, for internal purposes.
All of this is a long and boring way of saying that I have been completely above-board about what I do, and while I canâ€™t control what people say (or e-mail) behind my back, I can control my own actions.
So letâ€™s be clear: there has been absolutely no corrupt energy reporting, either outside of or inside the Toronto Star. Those who say as much are defaming me and Canadaâ€™s largest daily newspaper, and if necessary I will consider my legal options to protect my reputation. Those who know me know that financial gain is not why I do what I do. Sure, I need to pay the bills like anyone else. Iâ€™ve edited newsletters for venture capital firms. Iâ€™ve written the occasional report for philanthropic organizations. Iâ€™ve organized an energy innovation exhibition. Iâ€™ve done a bit of public speaking when asked, sometimes for free and other times for an honorarium and/or having my expenses covered. I have also volunteered my time, such as being a director for the ZooShare Biogas Co-operative, which plans to turn manure from animals at the Toronto Zoo into clean electricity for Ontarioâ€™s grid.
But my mission as a journalist â€” and for the past two years as editor of Canadaâ€™s magazine of the year â€” has been and I hope always will be to shine a light on economical solutions to our environmental problems; to be a catalyst for positive change and constructive discussion on how to make our world a more livable place. Period.
I hope this will be the last time I need to comment on this issue. I have a family health crisis that needs my attention. It angers me that this non-controversy has become a distraction from what really matters.
It is good to have that one archived here in case he pulls it down in future, but the posting Hamilton removed from his site was called “Further Comment on Manufactured Controversy”. He removed that post, putting in its place a post called “Further Comment” that simply links to the CKTB610 site.
Score (with thanks to a savvy friend)!
Cache of the post available:
Further comment on manufactured controversy
“Methinks thy protest too much”……should be the answer to any of Hamilton’s ponderings!