In late April 2014, staff at UA contacted me and asked me to undertake a project for them: to draw media and so, too, public and political attention to the manner in which the Ontario Energy Board (OEB) had handled a formal complaint that UA had lodged with them in December 2013. I worked on this project, under contract to UA, during May and June, 2014. Why, then, have I continued to work on this matter—extending the scope of my questions and doing further, deeper research in hopes of finding answers—throughout the rest of this summer and up to the present? I stand behind the report that I authored. Yes, I was paid to do the work that led, ultimately, to my writing and disseminating it. But this paid activity was far from mercenary. I personally—I the author of my report—really meant what I wrote in it. I really did come to believe that there was a serious problem with the execution of the series of MPMA/BPP/ONPA/OPG rebate programs that ran from May 1, 2002 to April 30, 2009—and I really did come to believe that UA’s December 2013 complaint about Direct Energy‘s treatment of two of their customers (in relation to the ONPA/OPG rebate program) really did speak to a matter that was, in fact, only the tip of a major iceberg (a point that UA made too in their complaint). I gave a detailed description of UA’s complaint and the OEB‘s mishandling of it in my report. But note—for this is so important—that my report embodied, among other things, a third-party complaint of my own. In it, I formulated a complaint about the OEB‘s serious mishandling of UA’s December 2013 complaint—a kind of meta-complaint, if you will. (My last post offers a summary of the multifaceted complaint embodied in my report. Note that my [sub-]complaint about the OEB‘s mishandling of UA’s earlier interaction with them was just one aspect of my critique.) In fact, UA did not commission me to write a report per se. All they asked of me was that I do what I could to draw attention to the way in which the OEB had handled the complaint they had submitted. I did this—I worked hard to draw attention to this matter—and, in the end, my efforts resulted in a long, detailed report. This outcome was not anticipated in advance; not by me and not by UA. But it is what happened. And, in the end, my report did not give expression to a perspective on these matters that was UA’s, specifically and exclusively. In fact, it did give expression to UA’s point of view; they stand behind my report as much as I do. But note, carefully, that it also gives expression to my own perspective, a point of view that emerged in the course of the work that led, finally, to the production of my report. Examining the circumstances described in UA’s December 2013 complaint, reviewing the OEB’s response to the latter, and digging deep into the public record—in search of clarity about the larger context, the big picture, the ultimate stakes—I was very disturbed by what I was finding. And so I came to care deeply and personally about the situation to which UA’s complaint had first adverted. I came to agree with staff at UA that, in fact, the OEB really had failed in their handling of the December 2013 complaint, that the circumstances described in that complaint really did warrant an investigation of Direct Energy‘s activities in relation to the MPMA/BPP/ONPA/OPG rebate programs and, too, that (for all the reasons set forth in my report) a wider, rebate-related investigation of Ontario’s whole electricity distribution and retailing sector really was in order. I said all of this in my report. But I didn’t “just say it.” I meant it. I really believed the claims that I was making. I still do. As I gained a deeper understanding of the circumstances surrounding and embodied in the series of MPMA/BPP/ONPA/OPG rebate programs that ran from May 1, 2002 to April 30, 2009—and as I made a closer and closer examination of the energy sector’s and the OEB‘s activities in relation to these programs—I became just as concerned as staff at UA about this situation. This concern is my main motivation now. And too—it must be said—UA’s concern for what is right and just; for what is best for Ontarians; for what is in the public interest: this is UA’s main motivation too. This is why, in my report, I stated that:
[UA’s] interest in this situation is almost entirely subsumed in the general, public one. [UA’s] motivation in retaining [me, the author of the report] was a deep frustration with the OEB, following a number of instances in which the latter had treated [UA’s] complaints ([i.e., third-party complaints] lodged on behalf of consumers [that is, UA’s own clients]) in (what seemed to be) a rather cavalier manner.
I also stated that:
Independently of any interest connected with their consulting business, [UA] had brought what they took to be obvious infractions, by Ontario utilities, to the OEB’s attention. The OEB more or less ignored them. If [UA’s] interest in this situation has a more parochial dimension, it is simply this: that having brought a matter of genuine public interest to the public’s attention, this will redound to their reputation as consumer advocates in a positive manner. Beyond this, [UA] is motivated by concerns that will be readily shared, upon reflection at least, by all Ontarians.
I could have—perhaps I should have—said more. In particular, this: that from the point of view of their business model, it is in UA’s interest the OEB not regulate Ontario’s energy sector in the public interest. Let me say that again: From the point of view of their business model, it is UA’s interest that the OEB not regulate Ontario’s energy sector in the public interest. By lodging complaints with the OEB whose upshot, if only the latter would really fulfill its mandate, would be an ever closer, ever more earnest and determined guarding of the public interest, UA is engaging in behavior that, from the point of view of their business model, is self-defeating. A major focus of UA’s business is the detection and recovery, after all—on their clients’ behalf—of monies owed (back) to them by utilities, by gas and electricity providers, by corporate entities, for example, like Direct Energy. UA detects and recovers such funds on a regular basis. But take note of this very important point: if the OEB were really regulating Ontario’s energy sector in the public interest—really doing that effectively, really succeeding at it—this part of UA’s business would simply evaporate into thin air. Staff at UA know this. And yet they lodge such complaints with the OEB. They have tried repeatedly to rouse the OEB to action in connection with cases of regulatory non-compliance that they have uncovered in the course of doing their work. In their December 2013 complaint they did not call upon the OEB to act in a manner that would benefit them, i.e., Utility Advocates—they acted, rather, as good corporate citizens, as businesspeople with an active conscience, as men and women with a burning concern, truly, for justice in matters that affect Ontarians more generally. And they called upon me to help them. And they paid me for my work, yes. And then I too, came to care about a situation to whose seriousness most Ontarians, our media, and our politicians continue to be blind. I’m working on that though. Here are some of the topics that I will cover in the coming days, as I continue to work on this issue.
- My ongoing interactions with the Ontario Ombudsman’s Office and their recent promise of an intervention in the matter of my complaint to the OEB.
- The developing story of my interactions with the IESO; my analysis of OPG’s annual MPMABPP/ONPA/OPG rebate figures and my request for a detailed, corresponding account, from the IESO of their disposition of those funds; and the IESO’s challenges around finding and collating the relevant records.
- An account of my interactions to date with a number of political figures, together with a calling-to-account, here, publicly, of all those who have exhibited a truly shameful blankness and silence in the face of what I have asked of them (to have their staff review my report, to reflect on its claims and the evidence that I present there, and to offer some kind of response).
- An account of my interactions to date with a handful of journalists—and a frank recounting of my struggle, thus far, to get any of them to see that, dauntingly complex though it be, there really is an important story here.
- An account of my interactions with the Ministry of Finance—and of the sheer irresponsibility of staff there. An account, too, of my interactions with Ms. Meilleur, Ontario’s Attorney General, and, especially, her office’s patronizing, uncomprehending, lazy response to my correspondence with them.
- An account of the futile outcome, so far, of my correspondence with two key, but seemingly irresponsible figures at the OEB, Karim Karsan (Vice President, Consumer Relations) and Rosemarie Leclair (President and CEO).
I continue to hope (stupidly perhaps?) that the sparks that I am casting out into the ether will, perchance, fall upon some tinder and catch fire.