Hydro Ottawa is charging the largest Freedom Of Information fee ever claimed by a public utility in Canada, nearly $700,000 over hidden records documenting its use of replacement workers in a 2023 strike. The utility’s conduct came only weeks before cabinet introduced a bill restricting use of replacement workers in the federally regulated sector.
“It has become clear that significant work will be required to search for and prepare responsive records for disclosure,” wrote Matthew Carey, legal counsel for Hydro Ottawa. Carey claimed that “preparation time” would take thousands of hours.
“Given the volume of potentially responsive records we anticipate that we may need to issue a time extension notice upon receipt of the deposit,” wrote Carey. The utility required upfront payment of half its cost estimate totaling a record $669,762.
The utility last September 20 settled a strike with the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 636. The strike by 390 employees lasted 83 days and saw Hydro Ottawa managers hire replacement workers.
Blacklock’s sought details of the utility’s use of replacement workers “from May 1 to October 17, 2023 including all documents, records, files, correspondence and electronic communication, data and invoices, excluding records already made public, regarding AFIMAC and XOH Powerline, Batte Pole Line Ltd., KPC Power Electric Ltd., Aerial Work Utilities and Jet Electrical Contractors.”
The records spanned 118 business days. Hydro Ottawa claimed the request covered 640,234 pages of documents that would take 18,047 hours to review and photocopy. Blacklock’s is appealing the $669,762 cost estimate as grossly inflated.
The number of documents Hydro Ottawa claimed to produce concerning its use of replacement workers is the equivalent of more than 5,400 each business day. By comparison the Income Tax Act, the largest Act of Parliament, runs to only 3,471 pages.
Hydro Ottawa settled the strike seven weeks before cabinet introduced Bill C-58 An Act To Amend The Canada Labour Code. The bill restricts federally regulated employers’ use of replacement workers under threat of $100,000-a day fines.
The bill is currently at Second Reading debate in the Commons. Labour Minister Seamus O’Regan called it “a massive change” in labour relations nationwide. “It will fundamentally change how labour relations operate in this country,” O’Regan told the Commons.
“The labour movement has been saying replacement workers are wrong for longer than this country has existed,” said O’Regan. “People in the labour movement have been telling us that replacement workers distract from the bargaining table and prolong disputes and that the use of replacement workers can poison the relationship between an employer and workers for generations after. We listened to the workers.”