Riel applies to intervene on PDI sale to Hydro One
Coun. Keith Riel has applied to speak out against the sale of Peterborough Distribution Inc. before the Ontario Energy Board (OEB) — and he doesn’t think there’s a conflict of interest, even though he’s a sitting councillor and a director on the board that controls the utility.
The OEB is the province’s electricity and natural gas regulator; it’s expected to consider an application to sell the municipally owned electrical distribution system to Ontario Hydro for $105 million.
A decision from the OEB is expected in August.
Riel has long opposed the proposed sale, saying he thinks the utility ought to remain in public hands.
On Dec. 3 he was appointed by Mayor Diane Therrien to the board of directors for City of Peterborough Holdings Inc. (CoPHI), the board that controls PDI.
On Tuesday he wrote an email to the OEB to apply to be an active participant, or intervener, in the hearing.
But in an interview on Friday, he said he only did so because he was told it’s the best way to receive ongoing correspondence from the OEB.
Riel said he emailed the OEB lately about getting regular updates about the hearing; an OEB representative later phoned him, he said, to recommend he apply for intervener status as a way to guarantee he’s “kept in the loop”.
When asked whether he thought he had a conflict of interest as a CoPHI director, Riel said he didn’t think so.
“I’m just doing this as a citizen and an owner of PDI,” he said.
Council voted 6-5 in December 2016 to sell PDI to Ontario Hydro. A deal was then negotiated and finalized in August.
It includes the wires, poles and transformers of Peterborough Utilities, which deliver electricity to 37,000 customers in Peterborough, Lakefield and Norwood.
Six other applications for intervener status are posted on the OEB website — mostly from large organizations such as the Canadian Union of Public Employees.
CUPE commissioned an Environics poll, just before council voted to sell the utility in 2016, that showed 93 per cent of respondents opposed the sale of PDI.
OEB spokeswoman Mary Ellen Beninger wrote in an email to The Examiner on Friday that she couldn’t comment specifically on this case.
But she did write that “a party to the proceeding” can object in writing to a person’s application for intervener status — and then the applicant can submit a written response.
Next the OEB can grant or deny a person’s application for intervener status, she wrote.
Mayor Diane Therrien wrote in an emailed statement to The Examiner on Friday that she “trusts” the OEB’s process will be “a full and comprehensive review of what’s in the best interest of residents and customers.”
“Keith Riel is representing himself as an individual — not in any official capacity — in his submission to the OEB,” she wrote.
But John Mascarin, a municipal lawyer in Toronto who is an integrity commissioner for several municipalities and teaches at Osgoode Hall Law School, sees it differently.
He said he’s seen cases where city councillors believe they can speak out as individuals rather than as elected officials.
“But you can’t have the benefit of being on a board and saying, ‘I’m going to change my hat… and act as a private citizen,’” he said.
He said he thinks Riel’s case “looks like a clear conflict” and that councillors who sit on boards have a fiduciary duty to that board.
John Stephenson, the president and CEO of Peterborough Utilities Group, wrote in an email on Friday that neither he nor the CoPHI board would be commenting on the matter.