Month: May 2018

by André Marin André Marin No Comments

Wynne took herself and the Liberal party down

The Onion.

The opening words are from Premier Kathleen Wynne: “I can do better.” It reminds me of a mediocre high school student who’s about to get his rejection letter from a university or college and thinks that that strategy will avoid the inevitable result. Wynne’s done, and she knows it.

The ad continues: “How I make life better for you. That’s what I think about when I get up to run at 5 in the morning.” Sure, she obsesses with making our lives better every single second she’s awake. Now let’s try to reconcile that in a moment with selling the provincial money-making utility Hydro One to the private sector. Or let’s try squaring that with making us pay one of the highest electricity rates in North America.

I can’t help to think there’s a tinge of vainglorious Kathleen in that line: “Look at me! I get up to run at 5 in the morning! That’s how great I am!”

After all, for the last four years, it’s all been about Kathleen Wynne and her ego. How else to explain her not getting the message to move on after many months stuck in public approval ratings hovering between 11 and 18 per cent.

To put the numbers in perspective, the American media were all over U.S. President Donald Trump’s drop in approval ratings last week. Newsweek reported that “Trump remained quite unpopular,” pegging his approval rating at 37 per cent. That’s more than three times the popularity of Wynne.

It’s rich of her in the ad to also say that “government isn’t about winning power.” Wynne’s so drunk on power that it’s clouded her judgment that it was time to pack it in a long time ago. Even former Premier Dalton McGuinty knew when to fold it. It saved the Liberal brand.

Wynne put herself above party. Her face stamped on every move the government makes. Now she’s not only toxic to herself, but she’s bringing down the whole Liberal party.

How toxic has Wynne become? Her pal selfie-loving Prime Minister Justin Trudeau wants nothing to do with her. No returning of Wynne’s 2015 gift where she declared war on then Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s conservatives and campaigned aggressively and openly for Trudeau.

Wynne’s very own candidates have been frosty towards her. A Windsor Liberal candidate, Rino Bortolin, has refused Wynne’s offer to campaign in the riding. She’s persona non grata, because according to Bortolin, “the focus is my brand.” And Bortolin is not the only one to give cold shoulder to Wynne.

Other candidates are not even using the word “Liberal” on their signs. Why bother running for election if you’re so embarrassed of your political affiliation?

In what would be a stunning and embarrassing upset, a recent Forum Research Poll found that Wynne may be fighting for her political life in her own riding, a traditional Liberal seat. Wynne has been representing Don Valley West since 2003. Back in the 2014, the Liberals easily won hands down 57 per cent of the vote vs 31 per cent for the Progressive Conservatives.

Wynne is surrounded by very experienced political advisors. Unless they started drinking her Kool-Aid, it’s hard to think they wouldn’t have told her over the last year that she should leave with dignity and for the sake of the party. At the rate this is going, I’d be surprised if you wouldn’t be able to count winning Liberals with one hand.

On June 8, the day after the election, Wynne will be able to lace-up, go for a run and ponder how she squandered the opportunity to make life better for us.

by André Marin André Marin No Comments

Preem ignored good advice

Three years ago, in my final report called In the Dark, I found maladministration that I had never before seen in a public body in my over two decades of overseeing municipal, provincial and federal bureaucracies.

Hydro One was a complete mess.

It had issued faulty bills to over 100,000 customers, mostly grossly overbilling them. To add insult to injury, they had lied to government and regulators about billing errors to cover their tracks.

At the time, I said: “They obstructed, and lied to, the Minister of Energy’s office when they asked questions, the board of directors and the Ontario Energy Board. Trying to deal with Hydro One math is like trying to pin down a kangaroo on a trampoline.”

Furthermore, I observed: “Like a lot of huge, monopolistic organizations, Hydro One lost sight of its duty to the public. It was so focused on the technical side of its new system, it failed to consider the impact it was having on customers.”

Premier Kathleen Wynne said all would change under privatization, just like magic, so independent officers of parliament were no longer needed. I urged her to reconsider – but to no avail.

“To think that removing the Ombudsman and privatizing it – all these problems will go away – is a little bit like living in a fool’s paradise,” I said. Wynne unwisely and stubbornly pushed through her omnibus bill, freeing Hydro One from answering to outsiders.

The only recommendation that was rejected in my report was not to remove Ombudsman oversight. I knew full well she’d poo-poo on my recommendation but made it anyways for the sake of posterity, so the record would reflect she was knowingly acting against an obvious solution. I knew Hydro One would continue its bad behaviour but wanted it documented that the recipe Wynne proposed would be at least partially responsible.

But Wynne was adamant and living in a dream world: “I am confident that the company will be better run because that, again, is another part of this process. It is going to be a different entity. It’s going to have different controls on it.”

Energy Minister Bob Chiarelli went ever further, public oversight “is not a practical solution … that would not be friendly to the securities sector.”

And today is my time to tell them both “I told you so.”

Hydro One has quickly become the hot button issue of the 2018 election. And for good reason.

The tall foreheads at Hydro One, from the CEO to all members of the Board of Directors gave themselves hefty pay increases.

So-called “hydro experts” don’t see that as a problem because they run a billion-dollar industry and their pay cheque has minimal impact on your hydro bills. Sorry but this misses the point.

The hydro file is a fiasco that’ll likely take decades to fix. There’s no magical wand that will fix it overnight. Sure, the energy grid needed upgrading, but what Wynne’s Liberals have done under the guise of fixing it was pure incompetence.

And now the current Hydro One management is backslapping each other on how great a job they’re doing while there’s no end to the misery of Ontario paying one of the highest hydro bills in North America.

Don’t take it from me. Hydro One stock has plummeted from a high of almost $24 less than a year ago to $19, which says a lot about shareholders’ confidence in its operations.

by André Marin André Marin No Comments

Ontarians need Ford to flip the switch

Hydro is top of mind during this provincial election, and for good reason. Green energy, overcharging consumers and high salaries to hydro executives dominate headlines. It’s a combination that makes for an explosive issue.

One of the excuses given for paying skyrocketing salaries to hydro official is that it’s a complicated job where special and exacting skills are required to run the business. Progressive Conservative Leader Doug Ford has even dubbed Hydro One “the six-million-dollar man,” for drawing a paycheque of $6.2-million.

In my last report as Ontario’s Ombudsman called In the Dark, released almost 3 years to this date, I found wildly egregious errors in Hydro One’s billing practices as well as a culture of complacency when it came to customer service. Hydro One is the most complained of government body since the creation of the Ombudsman’s office. An unprecedented 10,565 people came forward with all types of issues, including overbilling.

One corporate customer, for example, was billed $15 million instead of $4,034.47. In one of the most extreme examples, Garrison Petawawa received a whoppingly incorrect bill to the tune of $50,751,518.05.

The report was a wake-up call not only to Hydro One, but to all hydro companies in Ontario. Stop milking the unsuspecting taxpayer!

But we’ll never see such damning reports again because the Premier Kathleen Wynne government removed Hydro One from the oversight of all officers of parliament. Shoot the messengers of bad news and bad news goes away.

Did the high-priced hydro people listen to the message in the report to clean-up their act? Not according to Jeremy Poteck, once described as the hydro bill whisperer by former Sun columnist Christina Blizzard.

Poteck founded Poteck Power to hunt down errors in hydro bills once he read my report.

Poteck offers a free audit and charges on contingency. According to him, he has since recovered over $22 million in refunds from auditing businesses, hotels, not-for-profit organizations and the broader public service, such as universities and hospitals. That’s no chump change.

Who knows how much more money may be lurking out there that belongs in these institutions’ pockets?

On Friday, Poteck issued a press release in which he stated: “The time is now for companies and organizations to take back the money that is owed to them as a result of hydro billing errors. A refund that’s available today under the current government may no longer be available after June 7.”

Poteck says he recently recovered $276,000 in refunds for a single Toronto hotel.

Progressive Conservative Leader Doug Ford is likely to be the next Ontario Premier after the June election. He has not minced words about making heads roll at Hydro One. Ford’s next step will no doubt be to take measures to put in top staff concerned with improving customer service at Hydro One and in improving billing practices.

Poteck’s message could pretty well be summed-up as “get it while” you can. The hydro gravy train is about to end. And that’s a good thing.

by André Marin André Marin No Comments

We expected more from Liberal speaker MPP Levac

Outgoing Liberal MPP and Ontario Legislative Assembly Speaker Dave Levac gave a sort of exit interview to a friendly media outlet last week. Departing from his supposed role as neutral parliamentary arbiter, he went too political and missed an opportunity to contribute to improving the workings of parliament.

Levac ‘s pearls of wisdom on how to improve democracy was more a critique on the inconvenience of democracy itself. It reminded me of Prime Minister Winston Churchill’s quip that “democracy is the worst form of government, except for all the others.”

He lamented how much the Premier and Leader of the Opposition control MPPs. Levac said: “We whip that out of them: ‘No, no, no, you just follow the party line and do what you’re told.’”

Our Westminster parliamentary system may be flawed and have room for improvement but nothing Levac advanced would fix things.

Levac’s four proposals to “improve democracy” are weak. In fact, they’d be a step back. Let’s have a look at them.

First, reduce the time for question period. How does it help the democratic process to cut back on the opposition party to hold government’s feet to the fire?

Second, holding a premier’s question period to once a week. Already the province has no question period on Fridays. So, we should have let Premier Kathleen Wynne off the hook from answering questions 75 per cent of the time? Good for Wynne, bad for the rest of us.

Third, curb theatrics and improve decorum in parliament. This has been suggested for decades, but never achieved. It’s the very nature of partisan politics. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau promised to do the same as part of his “sunny ways” pitch. Yet the House of Commons has never been rowdier. Remember the “elbow incident” where Trudeau had to apologize for elbowing NDP MP Ruth Ellen Brosseau in a scuffle on the floor of the commons?

Fourth and weakest of his ideas: reducing the powers of officers of parliament by strengthening the role of MPPs. I’m all for strengthening the role of MPPs, which can be done without reducing the scope of oversight bodies.

Former Auditor General Sheila Fraser was up against that same kind of mindset of overstepping her boundaries more than a decade ago. But history already has elevated her to an almost cult status for her work on the federal sponsorship scandal.

And without Ontario’s Auditor General Bonnie Lysyk, we’d never have known how the government schemed to politically cook the books by billions of dollars before an election, duping voters about the state of our provincial finances.

Removing or reducing oversight means more opportunity for governments to play with our money without accountability mechanisms. Hardly a measure to bolster democracy.

And Levac couldn’t resist taking an apparent shot at Lysyk, saying about her: “There are people that question certain things that are being done and certain battles that are going on. It is very easy to create a ‘gotta get you,’ or a “gotcha moment,’ for any government.” That’s why MPPs need auditor’s reports that can be relied upon as “factual, that have merit.”

Spoken like a true Liberal.

Levac is retiring from his job. Regrettably, he could have chosen to be magnanimous and taken the high road. And with his many years of experience, you would have thought he could come up with something more meaningful and concrete.