Use your teeth

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What’s a poor regulator to do? You’re supposed to be regulating utilities in the province, but the provincial government has already tied your hands when it comes to reviewing the province’s largest utility (it’s a government-owned utility, and the government’s operating in lockstep with its golden child) and now, that utility seems to be ignoring you.

You tell the utility to supply information by a set date; the information doesn’t appear, and the utility simply says it will supply it later. What do you do? Well, if you’re the Public Utilities Board, the Public Utilities Act gives you the power to demand it.

“62. (1) A public utility shall provide to the board all information required by it to give effect to this Act, and shall make specific answers to all specific questions submitted by the board.

“(2)  A public utility receiving from the board blank forms with directions to fill them in shall fill them in so as to answer fully and correctly each question asked, and in case it is unable to answer a question it shall give a good reason for the failure, and the answers shall be verified under oath or affirmation by the president, secretary, superintendent or general manager of the public utility and returned to the board at its office within the period fixed by the board.”

Notice that the language in the act says “shall,” not “may.” That means the utility, power warehouse or not, has no choice.

Maybe you don’t want to fine a provincially owned company, although your enabling legislation says you can:

“103. (1) A public utility that fails to obey an order of the board made under this Act is liable, on summary conviction, to a fine of not less than $200 and not more than $5,000.”

Maybe you’re concerned the fine would just end up coming from the taxpayers who own the utility anyway.

But wait:

“103. (2) Where it is proved that a public utility has failed to obey an order of the board made under this Act, the president and every vice-president, director, managing director, and superintendent of that public utility is liable, on summary conviction, to a fine of not less than $200 and not more than $5,000, unless the person proves that he or she took all necessary and proper means to carry out the order of the board, and that he or she was not at fault for the failure to obey the order.”

Surely that doesn’t include failing to answer questions. Wait — look again:

“109. (1) An officer, agent or employee of a public utility who fails to fill out and return a form as required by this Act, or fails to answer a question in the form, or wilfully gives a false answer to a question, or evades the answer to a question where he or she had the means of ascertaining the fact inquired of, or who, upon proper demand, fails to exhibit to the board or a commissioner, or an authorized person a book, paper, account, record or memoranda of the public utility, which is in his or her possession or control, or who fails to use properly and keep a system of accounting as prescribed by the board under this Act, or who refuses to do an act or thing in connection with the system of accounting when so directed by the board or its authorized representative is upon conviction liable to a fine of not less than $1,000 for each offence.”

And the fines can pile up.

“112. Every day during which a public utility, or its officer, agent or employee knowingly fails to observe and comply with an order of the board, or to perform a duty required by this Act, constitutes a separate and distinct violation of the order or of this Act.”

What’s a hapless power regulator to do?

Well, you’d better start at least making some noise, or just decide to accept your role as a regulatory rubber-stamp.

Organizations: Public Utilities Board

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