REGINA - Saskatchewan's NDP says the government changed the law to allow SaskPower to use unqualified workers to install smart meters.
Deputy NDP leader Trent Wotherspoon says documents obtained through a freedom of information request show the government granted an exemption in July 2013 to a law that requires only qualified electrical workers install power meters.
He says the documents also show there were several incidents of smart meter malfunctions during a trial period in August 2013 when SaskPower used non-electricians to install the devices.
Wotherspoon also says the documents show the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers union sent several letters to the government expressing concern over the use of unqualified labour for installing the smart meters.
He says documents show the government rescinded the exemption allowing the use of unqualified workers on Aug. 1.
SaskPower has responded that it obtained an exemption because there's a shortage of electricians in Saskatchewan.
In an emailed statement, SaskPower said the electricians union and Unifor even signed its request to get the exemption extended. But the corporation said the province advised it that an exemption wasn't really necessary after all, informing it that SaskPower was an approved training institution that could train and certify workers.
"We are aware that other jurisdictions use this same method of installation," SaskPower said in the email.
The province announced Friday the Crown Investment Corporation will head an investigation into the smart meter program.
"The government could have done this the safe way and the right way by using electricians and taking the time to do it right," Wotherspoon said in a news release.
"The government sold out Saskatchewan by putting the bottom line of the private American company it contracted the smart meter job to ahead of Saskatchewan families."
Wotherspoon wants an independent review of the matter, one which isn't run by the government.
Dick Carter, president of Crown Investments Corporation, said independent experts will look at procurement and contract management of the smart meter program, safety issues and cost recovery options, which could include legal action.
The province ordered SaskPower to replace all 105,000 installed smart meters after at least nine fires believed related to the devices.
The government pegs the replacement tab at $15 million, but the full cost of the program is expected to be $47 million once the defective meters are removed.
“There will be a public report issued at the conclusion of the review, with findings and recommendations,” Carter said in a news release.
“Were sound processes followed by SaskPower in selecting the meter supplier and installer? What was the cause of the fires? And what recourse is available to recover costs? These are some of the questions that need to be answered by this review.”
— With files from CKRM
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