Critic says new Enbridge fee 'outrageous'
CTV.ca News Staff
Published Saturday, February 16, 2008 9:57PM EST
Enbridge is set to charge its Ontario customers a new fee to help pay the costs of an out-of-court settlement. In 2004, the Supreme Court ruled against the natural gas company -- for charging unfair fees.
The Supreme Court found that the company had billed illegal late-payment penalties from 1994 to 2002. The fees had been approved by the Ontario Energy Board (OEB).
The company agreed to pay $22 million in a settlement, but the OEB said Enbridge now has the right to reclaim that money, even if it's from the same customers it overcharged.
Gord Garland, who launched the lawsuit against Enbridge over the late fees, said the company is again mistreating its customers.
"It's outrageous that a company engaged in and essentially convicted of a criminal act would then ask its customers to pay for that act," he told CTV News.
In the Supreme Court ruling, Justice Frank Iacobucci wrote that "the late-payment penalties were collected in contravention of the Criminal Code," which trumps any OED ruling.
The OEB has also approved the new fee. In response to questions from CTV News, the OEB issued a statement explaining its decision. It noted that:
- Costs had been incurred prudently;
- Enbridge was acting in accordance with provincial government guidelines;
- The late payment penalties Enbridge was charging were approved by the Board at that time; and,
- the Ontario Superior Court had ruled in favour of Enbridge on two prior occasions, before being overruled by the Supreme Court of Canada.
Lawyers said that because Enbridge is a utility, it's guaranteed 'cost recovery.'
"What the OEB does is determine what the costs were and allow the utility to recover them from the customers," said regulatory expert George Vegh.
The new fee may be only a few dollars, but Garland said customers will be furious.
"That is money being taken out of Enbridge's customers' pockets and being put into Enbridge's pockets," he said.
With a report by CTV's Amanda Lang in Toronto