Riel ap­plies to in­ter­vene on PDI sale to Hy­dro One

The Peterborough Examiner - - Front Page - JOELLE KO­VACH Ex­am­iner Staff Writer

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.

Keith Riel

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