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.
Government’s exemption to use unqualified workers for smart meters secretly cancelled
The government was aware of the danger caused by using unqualified workers to install smart meters, and a government exemption to do so was cancelled on Aug. 1, according to documents obtained by the NDP Friday.
The documents also indicate the program went ahead despite eight incidents being reported during a trial period with the unqualified workers ending Aug. 27, 2013.
“The government has knowingly been putting people, homes and millions of ratepayer dollars at risk, ignoring direct warnings,” said Trent Wotherspoon, NDP deputy leader.
Government documents show that exemptions from a law requiring that only qualified electrical workers remove and install power meters were given to both SaskPower and American smart meter company Grid One Solutions in July 2013. The government’s exemption allowed them to skirt the law and use less-qualified workers, hired through a temp agency, instead of electricians or electrical workers to install smart meters throughout the province.
Shockingly, the decision to hire 150 unqualified workers was made despite the fact that 50 qualified electricians had already applied to do the work, plus additional qualified power line technicians, according to the documents, which were obtained by the NDP under Freedom of Information laws. Electricians can also supervise electrical apprentices who have completed post-secondary education, which would have rounded out the number of qualified electrical workers for the job.
The government’s first quarter financial update released Thursday shows it’s ignoring big problems in health and seniors care while hiding its increasing debt.
“By reading the government’s first quarter financial update, it’s clear this government is ignoring problems in health and seniors care,” said Trent Wotherspoon, NDP deputy leader and critic for finance.
“There’s not a dime redirected to actual health care from the massive allocation to its Lean experiment, and no adjustment in the first quarter to address the seniors care crisis. Is this government not listening at all? We know this government is still spending untold millions on American consultants and Japanese senseis for its Lean experiment – that money needs to be redirected into front-line care.”
With the tenth smart meter fire in the province, and SaskPower acknowledging installers need more training, the NDP says the government’s contracting out experiment has failed – it’s time to send the Texas license plates back to Texas.
The government chose to contract out the smart meter project, and allowed the American company it hired to use inexperienced workers with about a week of training instead of qualified electricians. In a move that seemed to acknowledge that the untrained workers are putting themselves, families and homes in danger, a bit of extra training was announced last week.
“The government’s $200 million contract with this American company has been a complete and dangerous failure. It’s time to look for a full refund on the $200 million contract, and send the Texas licence plates back to Texas,” said NDP Deputy Leader Trent Wotherspoon. “SaskPower has qualified electrical workers, and they should have been doing this job from the beginning.”
NDP calls on government to support a second bridge in Prince Albert without privatization demands
The provincial government has taken its privatization push to a new level. It has repeatedly stated that it believes Prince Albert doesn’t need a second bridge – but now says it will consider chipping in only if the city chooses a typically more expensive P3 method for the bridge.
“Prince Albert families and businesses need a second bridge. They do not need manipulative political games,” said Trent Wotherspoon, NDP deputy leader. “Telling Prince Albert their only hope for a second bridge under this government is if they go the privatized route is an attempt by this government to hold a city hostage to its politics.”
Wotherspoon said the government’s story doesn’t add up.