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NDP presses on privacy and power bills

Gerry Rogers speaks at the Corner Brook Status of Women Council 40th anniversary dinner Wednesday night at Grenfell Campus, Memorial University of Newfoundland.<br />Geraldine Brophy/The Western Star
Gerry Rogers

Government says it will investigate current policies

The Liberals were being asked Tuesday about the collection of power debts from provincial ratepayers and whether or not personal privacy is being protected in the process.

The questions were posed on the heels of stories published last week by the CBC, including multiple cases where tenants and landlords both expressed concern with debt collection by Newfoundland Power, a private company.

The reports included a case where a woman was in debt to the utility, had moved in with her boyfriend and did not have her name on the account for the new apartment she was in. Nevertheless, according to the report, she experienced a power cutoff when it was found out from the landlord she was living in the apartment.

NDP MHA Gerry Rogers said she was astounded by the story.

“What right do (Newfoundland Power) have to know who’s living in a bill payer’s house?” she asked, speaking with The Telegram after raising the question in the House of Assembly. “If you owed money to Canadian Tire or something, would they have the right to do that? No.”

Rogers noted privacy commissioners in British Columbia and Alberta already direct landlords not to disclose tenant information without the direct consent of the tenants, except in pursuing rent they’re owed.

The St. John’s Centre MHA asked if Justice Minister Andrew Parsons would introduce legislation to specifically prohibit landlords from disclosing information about their tenants to Newfoundland Power, saying any privacy protections otherwise in place were not enough.

Parsons — who is also the minister responsible for access to information and privacy protection — said the power-related privacy concern had not been brought to his attention before now.

He said he would look into it. He said the government is open to acting on any concerns brought forward, found to be with merit, where a change is in the best interest of the people of the province.

Also on power, Rogers asked about new legislation introduced in Ontario last winter, brought in to assure that electrical service is not cut off during the winter. She suggested similar legislation be brought in here.

It is not that the action is a first option or commonly taken, she said. However, a cutoff in winter is still possible.

“When we talk about issues like this, when we talk about something so important as power and people having access and being disconnected, it is something that we take concern with,” Parsons said in the House.

“What I would suggest, Mr. Speaker, is I’m always happy to ensure that the Public Utilities Board has a look at issues like this. It’s unfortunate that the previous administration didn’t let them look at other issues that they might have, but certainly we’ll make sure that they look at this,” he said.

The Liberals have promised to mitigate an expected spike in power bills as a result of the Muskrat Falls hydroelectric project. Any power rate increase makes it more likely some customers of both Newfoundland Power and Newfoundland and Labrador Hydro will default on payments.

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