Don’t shoot the messenger.
On Thursday, June 9, rural residents had the opportunity to voice their frustrations to the new Hydro One ombudsman, Fiona Crean, at a public meeting at the Greely Community Centre.
Hosted by MPP Lisa MacLeod, Osgoode Coun. George Darouze, Rideau-Goulbourn Coun. Scott Moffatt and Gloucester-South Nepean Coun. Michael Qaqish, the meeting was part of a tour of meetings Crean will conduct in the coming weeks. Attendees were encouraged to express all of their concerns and ask all of their tough questions about Hydro One’s service.
“I actually think that complaining is a good thing,” Crean said to the packed crowd gathered at the meeting. “It’s a courageous thing, and it’s a time consuming thing.”
Crean’s job is to mediate the relationship between Hydro One and its customers, ensuring that residents are not being treated unfairly.
“I investigate complaints about the unfairness in the delivery of services,” she said, adding that her main focus is to make sure all residents are treated with respect.
Hydro One has only recently created an ombudsman position and hired Crean in March. She’s received more than 700 complaints since then, and they just keep rolling in.
Residents of rural Ottawa, in areas such as Manotick, Osgoode, Greely and even Orléans, have been dealing with high hydro bills since before amalgamation. Several rural residents are serviced by Hydro One, while urban residents in the core of the city are serviced by Hydro Ottawa. While the two companies charge the same rates for hydro, Hydro One’s delivery charges are an added expense that has many residents struggling to pay.
“Hydro One (bills) are too high,” said Osgoode Coun. George Darouze. “I hear about it from residents all the time. People can simply not afford this any longer.”
“The intent here is to make sure (Crean) understands what people are experiencing with their bills,” echoed Rideau-Goulbourn Coun. Scott Moffatt.
FIGHTING FOR FAIRNESS
To kick off the meeting, Crean gave a brief presentation about her roles, responsibilities, and authorities to help residents in their fight for fairness.
As ombudsman, Crean reports to Hydro One’s board of directors. She is able to investigate and mediate cases of unfairness, but does not have the authority to change existing policies or rates.
“I do not deal with public policy,” she said later in the meeting. “I deal with the implementation of public policy.”
What this means is that Crean can investigate cases where policies are being used incorrectly or unfairly. For example, Crean said she recently dealt with a case where a neighbourhood had been classified low density, which is more expensive, when it turned out it should have been classified mid-density instead.
While she said she understands that the high cost of hydro bills is a problem for residents, she can only help if the bills are incorrect. Crean does not have the authority to investigate hydro rates or delivery charges, which are set by the Ontario Energy Board.
“If I do nothing else,” she said, “I want to get that bill redesigned to help you understand what you really owe.”
Crean said there are three factors of fairness her office employs: procedural fairness, substantive fairness and equitable fairness.
Crean assured the crowd that individuals will be treated fairly regardless of factors such as education, literacy level, ethnicity, geographic location and a multitude of others.
“It is about ensuring that people are treated fairly, not necessarily identically,” Crean’s presentation states.
The majority of the meeting was reserved for residents to voice their frustrations.
“I want to give all of you the opportunity to speak to (Crean) and express your concerns,” MacLeod said.
Residents' concerns followed one main stream: bills are too high, and something has to be done about reducing costs.
“The government is still doing what it continually does, which is raising prices,” one woman said. “What can you do for us?”
However, Crean said she is virtually powerless to change existing costs; prices are set by the Ontario Energy Board. All Crean can do is investigate cases of unfair billing.
Other residents asked Crean what can be done about getting all Ottawa residents into Hydro Ottawa. Coun. Moffatt fielded these.
In order for Hydro Ottawa to purchase the 45,000 Ottawa residents serviced by Hydro One from the competing company, they would have to fork over $600 million. This is simply not feasible, he said. The only alternative option is for the province to force the change, which is also not likely.
Still, the division upsets residents.
“We look across the river and see people with their lights on when we are in the dark,” said one resident.
Crean encouraged residents to contact her office with questions and concerns. She can be contacted at 416-345-1505 or at 1-844-608-8756. Alternatively, residents can email her at firstname.lastname@example.org. An online complaint form can also be found at www.HydroOneOmbudsman.com.