Manitoba

Efficiency Manitoba running without employees for months: NDP

Efficiency Manitoba had no employees nearly a year after the Crown corporation devoted to saving electricity was introduced to Manitobans.

3 employees in place for new Crown corporation focused on energy conservation

A Crown corporation focused on energy conservation has three employees as of April, the government said on Tuesday. (Mike Blake/Reuters)

Efficiency Manitoba had no employees nearly a year after the Crown corporation devoted to saving electricity was introduced to Manitobans.

The corporation did not have any staff, with the exception of the appointed board of directors and acting CEO, until January of this year, according to a letter Manitoba's ombudsman wrote to the NDP.

The Efficiency Manitoba Act was proclaimed in Jan. 2018 and the Crown corporation appointed its inaugural board members that May.

The government says that Efficiency Manitoba now has three employees as of April, but NDP Leader Wab Kinew said it shouldn't take this long to hire staff.

"This far into the existence of Efficiency Manitoba, for them to have no staff suggests that this organization is just, you know, a figment of this government's imagination, that they're not really out there doing the work that they're supposed to," Kinew told reporters Tuesday from the Manitoba Legislature.

His party received notice from the ombudsman that Efficiency Manitoba lacked staffing when their freedom of information requests were not returned.

In response to questioning from the NDP during question period, Crown Services Minister Colleen Mayer said Efficiency's staff is hard at work. 

Minister of Crown Services Colleen Mayer says staff at Efficiency Manitoba are working to familiarize themselves with the task ahead of them. (Radio-Canada)

"They're working to build their understanding of the groundbreaking work that they're doing within their organization," she said.

"What they're going to do, Madam Speaker, is make sure they get the job done right."

Jeannette Montufar, Efficiency Manitoba board chair, said the corporation has accomplished a "tremendous amount" since the board was appointed last year, including drafting its first strategic plan, developing a new logo and social media channels, creating a website and drafting a series of internal policies and procedures.

The corporation is nearing completion of its first three-year plan, which she said will be presented to Manitoba's Public Utilities Board for approval this summer. The plan will lay out the programs the Crown corporation will provide, and Montufar said until that's done, the corporation has the right amount of staff for the task at hand.

"In the next few months, you're going to see us going to the PUB with a three-year plan, and then soon after that you're going to start being able to see more of us in the public. I don't think it's necessary to be using resources right now that we don't need," she said.

"We don't want to waste taxpayers' money in hiring people that we're not going to be needing."

Giveaways, rebates advertised

The Progressive Conservatives fulfilled an election promise by introducing a bill in 2017 to shed the energy-saving department from Manitoba Hydro's portfolio.

The government argued it was an "inherent conflict" for Manitoba Hydro to sell electricity while also calling on Manitobans to conserve energy. 

At the time, the PCs said staff who oversaw the existing Power Smart program would be moved to the new Crown corporation.

The first permanent hire for Efficiency Manitoba was Colleen Kuruluk, who was announced as the chief executive officer last December. She served as Hydro's manager of Power Smart programs since 2007. 

According to legislation, Efficiency Manitoba is supposed to reduce electricity consumption by 1.5 per cent and natural gas consumption by 0.75 per cent. (efficiencymb.ca)

Grant Doak, deputy Crown services minister, served as interim CAO until Kuruluk's appointment.

The promotional arm of Efficiency Manitoba has been active recently. Various advertisements, seen on billboards and other media, state the phrase "spring 2019."

They've run giveaways through social media and offered rebates for energy-efficient lighting projects at certain retailers.

A government spokesperson said Efficiency is currently in operation.

Kinew says the government shouldn't have spun off energy savings into a separate entity, but they must prioritize the new Crown corporation since it already exists.

"They're running a PR campaign around this organization, but there's nothing to back it up — there's no staff carrying out any functions."

Last spring, the government stopped advertising its Power Smart program as the transition of energy efficiency programs was underway. It said Efficiency would be up and running later that year.

A requests for comment from Kuruluk was not returned late Tuesday. 

The province is expecting a lean, streamlined operation in Efficiency Manitoba.

In an updated mandate letter to Montufar last month, Mayer wrote the board must establish the structure of the corporation.

It should be as successful as the former Power Smart program, if not more so, at a "significantly smaller percentage of the cost and materially less labour costs," the letter read.

The board has been asked to develop a three-year plan to meet its mandated target of reducing electricity consumption by 1.5 per cent and natural gas consumption by 0.75 per cent.

About the Author

Ian Froese

Reporter

Ian Froese is a reporter with CBC Manitoba. He has previously worked for newspapers in Brandon and Steinbach. Story idea? Email: ian.froese@cbc.ca.

With files from Aidan Geary

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