Who demanded the exemption to use unqualified workers to install smart meters?

The NDP is calling on the premier and ministers to reveal where the push to use unqualified workers to install smart meters came from.

Responding to reporters’ questions Friday, a SaskPower spokesperson indicated the Crown corporation was told by the government to apply for the exemption, and didn’t know why. The spokesperson also indicated SaskPower was directed by the government to request an end to the exemption just weeks ago.

The exemption from the government permitted the smart meter project to use a temp agency to hire people with no experience rather than use electricians as the law requires. Experts had warned the government this could result in fires.

“I’m sure the premier and his cabinet want to throw SaskPower under the bus, and have them take the fall,” said NDP Deputy Leader Trent Wotherspoon. “But it’s becoming clear that Wall’s government directed SaskPower to apply for the exemption with the American company, and this government has been pulling the strings on this fiasco since the beginning. The buck stops with Mr. Wall and his cabinet.

“What’s not clear is why on earth this government would take direct steps to help fatten the Texas-plated company’s bottom line at the risk of Saskatchewan families and their homes. It’s time for the premier and his ministers to come forward and start explaining.”

Instead of SaskPower managing the smart meter project, the government outsourced the entire program to American corporation Grid One Solutions for nearly $200 million. 

Excerpts from media speaking with a SaskPower spokesperson Friday include:

  • Journalist: “Why was it necessary to have the exemption prior to August first?”
    SaskPower spokesperson: “That would be a question for the Ministry of Labour Relations. We were requested to make that exemption and so we followed suit…”
  • SaskPower spokesperson: “It was determined by the ministry it [the exemption] was no longer required.”
  • Journalist: “How is the exemption not necessary anymore if the same workers and Grid One are going to be doing the removal of the smart meters and the installation of the old meters?”
    SaskPower spokesperson: “Again, that’s probably a question for the ministry. We withdrew it upon their advice that the exemption was no longer required…”
  • SaskPower spokesperson: “That might be a question for the ministry…” as well as “I would, you should probably speak with them [the ministry]…”  plus “I would again check in with the ministry on some of those details….”

The premier and the minister have some explaining to do.

Documents obtained Friday detailed the exemption, and revealed that it was cancelled in secret on Aug. 1. The documents also revealed the government went ahead with the smart meter program despite eight incidents during the trial period in the summer of 2013, that workers were given only five days of training, and that the government chose to contract out the smart meter project instead of using SaskPower and its electricians despite initially receiving more than 50 applications from qualified electricians to join the project and install meters.