This company submitted the request with only good intentions, founder and president says
By Jackie Clark
Jeremy Poteck, founder and president of Poteck Power, has come forward and said that his company submitted the Freedom of Information (FOI) request asking for a list of Ontario businesses with a Farm Business Registration (FBR) earlier this year.
Many farmers in Ontario expressed concern over the request, with some individuals positing that activist groups may be behind it, hoping to find businesses to target with protests. OMAFRA considered feedback and announced in August that they would release the names, but not FBR numbers, to the requester. Many agricultural stakeholders filed appeals, and the requester withdrew the FOI application in early November.
Throughout this process, the requester has remained anonymous. Now, Poteck wants to clear the air and reassure farmers that the intention was not nefarious, rather to offer help to farm businesses.
Jeremy Poteck founded Poteck Power five years ago.
“Our mission is to find and correct every incorrect hydro bill across the province of Ontario, and we work on a contingency basis. So, we make money if we’re successful in recovering any funds for our clients,” he told Farms.com. “We have a history with the farming space, farmers have been great clients to us. There are obviously a very large amount of large power using farms in Ontario and so we wanted to make our services available to all the farmers in Ontario.”
Poteck Power “was inspired by the former ombudsman of Ontario, a gentleman named André Marin,” he explained. Marin published a report called In The Dark in 2015, after receiving over 10,000 complaints about Hydro One. This report investigates transparency of hydro billing in the province.
Poteck recently learned about the FOI process in Ontario.
“We believe strongly in transparency and we figure it would be a really good tool for us,” he explained. “We just figured (we would) submit an FOI, see every business that’s a farm in Ontario, and then use that as a list so that we can market our services to them.”
Poteck didn’t anticipate the strong reaction from the agricultural community in the province.
“There was a lot of concern about environmentalists and protesters,” he said. “It was interesting while the request was still outstanding to know that it was us, and that we really had good intentions and we were just trying to help.”
However, “once we saw the fears that it caused, we figured it might be best to let it go,” he added.
Poteck Power filed the request through a proxy person external to the company, he explained.
“We’ve filed a fair number of FOIs, so we generally do it through a proxy because you never know if there’s going to be blowback,” he said. “The FOI process is always supposed to be anonymous, (but) we figured it just wouldn’t hurt to have a barrier in between Poteck Power and the requester, so that they don’t necessarily know that it was us. There is the potential for negative consequences with an FOI. There might be folks that are upset.”
However, after seeing worry and speculation from farmers and agricultural media, Poteck “just wanted to clear the air,” he said.
The issue of privacy and transparency becomes fraught when it concerns farm businesses, many of which are also the homes of producers.
“When the IPC office and the other folks who were negotiating with us brought that to our attention, we immediately offered to revise our request and make it more reasonable, to say that we only want information of corporations,” Poteck explained. This revised version would target large-scale operations that would be more likely to be Poteck Power clients, whereas proprietorships or farm businesses owned in a personal name could be exempt.
However, farmers and farm organizations were still planning to appeal the request.
“If we wanted to pursue it further, we would have to go through a legal process or a judicial process through the Information and Privacy Commissioner’s office, and then potentially to court, and we had no appetite for that,” Poteck added.
“I do believe that we have the right to, and we could have continued to pursue it, but given the negative attention it was getting and the anxiety it was causing the farmers, we decided it would be better to just drop it,” he said.
Freedom of information and transparency are concepts Poteck is passionate about, he said.
“I know that this (situation) has made its way up to MPs and folks who said that they’re going to consider an overhaul of the FOI system,” he said. “The FOI system needs an overhaul, but it needs an overhaul in the opposite direction than they’re intending. We need more freedom of information in Ontario, we need better controls and a better office of the privacy commissioner to enforce those controls because transparency and freedom of information is one of the most important things that we have as citizens and taxpayers and just as humans in Ontario and Canada.”
Transparency is how we keep politicians and governments accountable to their constituents, he added.
Poteck hopes this instance will not provide impetus to tighten up the FOI system, “when in reality they should be loosening it and making it easier for folks to get freedom and transparency of information,” he said.