POLITICS

Saskatchewan NDP still calling for economy minister to resign over smart meters

10/29/2014 06:13 EDT | Updated 12/29/2014 05:59 EST
REGINA - Saskatchewan's Opposition is citing a briefing note that warned about the safety of smart meters as it continues to call for the economy minister to resign.

NDP finance critic Trent Wotherspoon said the note from October 2012 — along with a subsequent meeting — shows that the government was aware of fires in the United States linked to the meters.

Last summer, the province ordered SaskPower to remove more than 100,000 smart meters that had already been installed in homes after at least eight devices caught fire in June and July.

Economy Minister Bill Boyd said the note may have crossed his desk, but he doesn't recall seeing it or discussing safety issues.

"Any briefing that we would receive with respect to this, the question would be asked, 'Should we continue to proceed?,'" he said, adding that the government relied on advice from the Crown utility SaskPower.

Saskatchewan's Crown Investment Corp. was directed to do a review after the fires. The investigation results released Monday found that rain water and contaminants getting into the meters appeared to contribute to them failing.

It said the smart-meter program didn't make customer safety enough of a priority.

On Monday, Boyd announced the resignation of SaskPower CEO Robert Watson, who took responsibility for problems with the meters provided by U.S. manufacturer Sensus.

Boyd said the government acted appropriately as soon as issues were identified.

"If there was information presented and we didn't act upon it, clearly there'd be a problem with that, and I would resign," Boyd said on Monday.

On Wednesday, Boyd said SaskPower had information about safety issues with a less advanced model of smart meter than the one used in Saskatchewan. He also said the utility received written assurances of meter safety from Sensus, indicating that fires were caused by installation or wiring issues.

Wotherspoon called Boyd's comments "utter nonsense."

"This minister has failed Saskatchewan people from the get-go," he said. "He pretended as he went through this process that he wasn't aware of safety risks."

Wotherspoon said the briefing note was followed by a face-to-face meeting.

"(It) should have immediately caused a minister to do some homework, throw some breaks on and insure the safety of Saskatchewan people," he said, adding that the NDP learned of the briefing note and meeting from a confidential source.

Wotherspoon has also criticized the government for the deal reached with Sensus following the meter failures. He said the province should be reimbursed for the full $47-million cost of the meters and cut ties with manufacturer.

Sensus is refunding $24 million for all the smart meters the province purchased. That covers all devices that were installed and have to be removed, as well as those that haven't been put in yet.

The company is also giving SaskPower $18 million in credit for new meters and another $5 million for research on a device suited to the Saskatchewan climate.