Ombudsman slams Hydro One service

A protester at Toronto’s rally on March 14 against Bill C-51 expresses his anger with Hydro One. (Photo Jeremy Appel) A protester at Toronto’s rally on March 14 against Bill C-51 expresses his anger with Hydro One. (Photo Jeremy Appel)

Jeremy Appel
City Hall/Queen’s Park Reporter

Hydro One has been in some hot water lately.

Ontario Ombudsman Andre Marin lambasted “the frankly shocking” revelations of “absurdly high bills and atrocious customer service” at a March 11 press conference.

These revelations include threats to cut off electricity for non-payment of bills during last winter, one of the coldest in recent memory.

Now, the Ontario government is reportedly looking to sell parts of the public energy company in its ongoing bid to quash the deficit.

A Humber professor suggests the government is capitalizing on a strong public sentiment against Hydro One.

“There is a stereotypical association with government involvement and a lack of customer service,” said Kerry Johnston, co-ordinator of the Sustainable Energy and Building Technology program.

“We have a huge debt attached to our electricity system that’s been developed over the last 50 years and it’s been mismanaged on many fronts,” said Johnston. “It’s not like a wild west show when you privatize. There are regulations on what local distribution companies can charge.”

The ombudsman cautioned against a rush towards privatization near the end of his press conference.

 

“In the past when the government has privatized public services that we oversaw by nature of our mandate, we then lost oversight,” he said.

“At least give consideration to allowing us to continue having oversight over Hydro One. That would be my concern,” Marin said.

He said, despite this reservation, he does not want to interfere with a “broad public policy issue.”

Hydro One responded to the ombudsman’s allegations in an online press release the same day.

The energy company denies it made threats to cut off customers’ electricity in the winter but acknowledged some billing complications.

“With the technical issues behind us, we are now revisiting all our customer interactions with the goal of transforming our business into a truly customer caring organization,” Hydro One President and CEO Cam Marcello said in the release.

NDP Energy Critic Peter Tabuns questions whether privatization will be effective in improving service.

He says it will certainly be effective if the goal is to increase corporate profits.

“What we’ve seen with the introduction of private power by the Conservatives (in 1998) and its expansion by the Liberals is a substantial increase in the price of power,” Tabuns said.

The Toronto-Danforth MPP also observed “a steady stream of money leaving the province, going to foreign companies.”

He agrees with the ombudsman that less public ownership of Hydro One will ultimately result in reduced oversight.

“Our ability to actually reach in and do something about Hydro One is dramatically reduced if we sell it off,” Tabuns said.

Energy Minister Bob Chiarelli has yet to issue a statement on the potential privatization.

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