Readers of this site following my reporting on interactions between Toronto Hydro and the Ontario Energy Board might recall an application I filed with Fiona Crean, Toronto’s ombudsman, in January this year.
The final disposition of that application provides a disappointing indicator of what Hydro One consumers might expect, or not expect, from Ms. Crean, now that utility’s new government-appointed ombudsman.
My application sought an investigation into the Union Street blackout of April 2014. That event knocked out power to around one-quarter of the City of Toronto. The evidence I adduced included an internal engineering report produced by Hydro One with input from Toronto Hydro engineers (available here). The evidence proves that the blackout was directly caused by Toronto Hydro’s gross negligence and that the Toronto Hydro CEO’s claim that the blackout was caused by Hydro One to Paul Bliss on CTV was well known by Toronto Hydro to be a false statement at the time the CEO made this televised statement. My application also documented how the matters I addressed were directly within the ombudsman’s purview. My requests to the ombudsman focused on governance and disclosure.
I went to the Toronto ombudsman having observed no action from the Ontario Energy Board (OEB) after a series of blackout events in Toronto where good utility practices were noticeably absent, including Thorncliffe Park and Hurricane Sandy. (Parts 54 and 55 of this series presented evidence of the utility’s deliberate go-slow storm recovery strategy during and after Hurricane Sandy. My reporting on the Thorncliffe Park blackout is mostly in Parts 57, 60, 62, 63, 64, 65, 66 and 67 of this series.)
Since I filed my application with the Toronto ombudsman, the OEB has not picked up its game. Notice for example that Toronto Hydro’s application for five years of rate increases starting 2015 May 1 (a 21% increase for households in the first year) has still not been decided by the OEB although final arguments in that case were filed in April 2015. The OEB’s delay will almost surely result in a large amount of retroactive rate recovery.
In the early months after I filed my application, it appeared that the Union Street blackout was being taken seriously by the ombudsman’s office. I met with Crean and her staff. I exchanged emails with the ombudsman’s office. I provided background information. I warned the ombudsman that Toronto Hydro’s CEO is a longtime and well-documented perjurer, uses tactics like assigning for the “independent” review of the 2014-15 ice storm the same consultant who had designed the utility’s tree management program that had so obviously failed consumers during that storm, and is a key electricity industry ally of the Premier.
During my discussions with Crean, I undertook to leave the investigation to her and to not interfere.
Then radio silence settled in. My next piece of information was that Crean had been appointed to the new ombudsman post at Hydro One.
At that point, I contacted the Toronto ombudsman’s office to ask what had happened to my application. Initially, all I could get was a phone appointment. Concerned that I might get brushed off, I showed up at the ombudsman’s office 3 minutes before the phone appointment was scheduled to begin. The senior official with whom I had arranged the appointment appeared at reception, only to inform me that he had been called away to an emergency meeting and couldn’t meet with me. How convenient, I thought.
The soonest rain cheque I could get where I could actually meet with representatives would be two weeks later. When it finally happened on November 24 the meeting didn’t go well.
I met with two senior representatives of the ombudsman’s office. They confirmed that they did an investigation but that the investigation was over and no report would be issued. When I sought after the scope of the review, they informed me that their review had focused on emergencies declared by Toronto Hydro from the end of the ice storm in January 2014 until April 15, 2015. That period included the Union Street blackout. However, when I asked about that event, they informed me that Toronto Hydro did not declare an emergency during the Union Street blackout, therefore, the scope of the ombudsman’s Office investigation did not include the Union Street blackout.
Crean protected Toronto Hydro from having its wrongdoing investigated.
At this point, the ombudsman’s two representatives started demanding that I sign a confidentiality agreement whereby I would be prohibited from disclosing the content of the meeting. I asked them to produce a copy of their confidentiality agreement. They produced an agreement referencing Section 173 of the ombudsman’s mandating legislation. Then I asked for a copy of the legislation. Once it was produced, it became clear that their confidentiality agreement only applies to representatives of the ombudsman’s office. I then asked the two representatives to point to the clause in their legislation that they claimed required me to constrain my freedom of speech regarding the meeting. They claimed that although there was no specific clause requiring me to maintain confidentiality, that a comprehensive reading of the legislation provided various threads that, read together, required my confidentiality.
At this point, it became clear to me that I was subject to a lame attempt at official bullying.
The tone of the meeting deteriorated.
The ombudsman’s representatives started demanding to know what section of their legislation gives me the authority to disclose the contents of the meeting. I replied saying that their demand was nonsense. They also repeatedly demanded to know my intentions with any information I might obtain, to which I repeatedly explained that it was none of their business.
The Union Street blackout was an obvious case of wrongdoing by Toronto Hydro. That wrongdoing was compounded by deliberate dishonesty by the CEO Anthony Haines, who attempted to shift blame for the blackout to` Hydro One. Fiona Crean’s actions to shield Toronto Hydro from investigation represent a cloud over her appointment to the newly created ombudsman post at Hydro One. I do not have confidence that Hydro One’s new ombudsman will be effective in protecting the interests of consumers.
As in any FOI process the truth never really gets exposed. So much for transparency.
Toronto Hydro may never get the 21% rate increase as that is where the provincial Liberals won all their seats to have a majority government. Kathleen Wynne knows this would be political suicide.
Any outage that is unplanned or forced should be deemed an emergency I expect as crews are dispatched right away are they not? Any excuse available to avoid having negative publicity or actually getting at the truth. Keep the sheeples in the dark just like the outages that that Toronto Hydro isn’t coming clean on.
By the way, the Premier does not hand out $100 cheques outside of Toronto to rural or Northern Ontario when the lights go out for days up here.
What with these 100.00 checks? Don’t think any of us in rural heard about this
Hydro One wanted a team player and that’s what they got.
The Toronto ice storm could not have been prevented but at least Toronto Hydro should have been prepared.
They did not heed the weather warnings. Then they looked for anyone who could provide a CYA operation for them.
We need more people with guts like the NOTL Hydro to speak up about this sector. The Ombudsman shouldn’t be team player, i.e., a go along to get along type.
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