There is an inherent conflict of interest in having a consumer advocate appointed by government represent the interests of consumers before hearings of the Public Utilities Board into the conduct of Newfoundland and Labrador Hydro, a Crown corporation owned by the government.
We believe that when the board begins its hearing into the reliability of the Newfoundland power system, consumers should be represented by a consumer advocate appointed either by the board itself of by the courts.
We have written to the minister of natural resources to recommend an alternative appointment process for the consumer advocate.
We asked that government amend the Public Utilities Act to grant the Public Utilities Board the authority to appoint the consumer advocate, or alternatively that the chief justice of Newfoundland and Labrador should make the appointment.
The appointment should be for a fixed term and subject to terms and conditions set by the board or by the chief justice.
For the purposes of the upcoming hearing, we ask that the government appoint a special consumer advocate, on the recommendation of the PUB and on such terms and conditions as may be established by the PUB. We believe there is sufficient time to do this before the hearings begin.
We also wrote the Public Utilities Board to ask that the board recommend such changes in the Public Utilities Act. Under section 83 of the act, where a “person proposes a change in a law relating directly or indirectly to the property or operations of a public utility, the proposed change may be submitted to the board, and the board may take evidence and give public hearings, and the board may recommend the bills that will in its judgement protect the interests of the public and the public utility, and transmit the bills to the attorney general."
The authority to appoint the consumer advocate comes from section 117 of the Public Utilities Act, so it is obviously a law which indirectly affects the operation of a public utility and is, in our view, the kind of matter contemplated by section 83. We asked that the board commence the process leading to a recommendation for legislative change to section 117.