This is the sordid story of a “McGuinty/CBC hack” who soared to great heights of personal wealth by being the “go-to guy” when an incentive rewards program was intertwined within our energy sector to create a “massive dollar scheme” that resembles something from a true detective magazine or maybe even an Enron playbook on how to screw money out of unsuspecting consumer’s pockets!
By Tom Adams and Adam Break
When Premier McGuinty first announced in 2004 that he was committed to promoting a “culture of conservation”, who could have imagined that the government would create a rewards program in which conservation program participants could redeem points for plane tickets to destinations like the Caribbean?
The story of how this twisted conservation incentive program took flight centres on Ben Chin.
Chin, the once prominent TV journalist at CBC, CTV, and CityTV, crossed over to what he described as “a higher calling” after reinventing himself as a provincial Liberal Party candidate in a 2005 by-election. Losing to the NDP’s Peter Tabuns, Chin immediately became a key McGuinty insider and fixer.
With the 2007 McGuinty repeat electoral victory in the bag, in October 2008 Chin had left Premier McGuinty’s Office and started work at National Public Relations (NPR).
At the time, the Ontario Power Authority (OPA) was a client of NPR’s.
After Chin’s arrival at NPR, NPR’s business with the OPA flourished. In early 2009, the OPA contracted with NPR to develop its “Count Me In!” conservation public relations program.
In March of 2009, after only 5 months at NPR, Chin exited NPR and returned to the McGuinty stables to become the VP for Corporate Communications at the OPA.
Chin’s new job at OPA paid very well. In his last full year of employment at the OPA, Chin took in $247k from electricity ratepayers tax dollars without counting his pension entitlements.
In November 2009, under Chin’s watchful eye, the OPA moved to ramp up the “Count Me In” conservation program into an new version that might be called “Count Me In Your Data Base”, issuing a request-for-proposals (RFP) that appeared to be tailor-made for Air Miles reward program. The RFP document set out:
This RFP is an invitation to prospective Proponents to submit Proposals to provide a turnkey solution for a points reward program that will include the design of the points reward system methodology, administration and fulfillment of points, monthly performance reporting and prominent OPA recognition on the Service Provider’s website.
The eligibility criteria Chin put in place appear to have specified Air Miles. Here are those criteria from the RFP:
The eligible proponent must have the ability to offer a points rewards program that allows customers to redeem points through a wide range of businesses. Proprietary rewards points programs that allow customers to redeem points from a single source or organization will not be eligible.
Additionally the following eligibility criteria will be considered:
– ability to include environmentally friendly products and/or services in their offering to consumers for point’s redemption.
– ability to provide co-branding opportunities where necessary
– a website available for consumers to access account information, including activation, redemption and fulfillment of points
– ability to provide different options to redeem points such as activities, goods, services, donations and gift cards.
Air Miles may have been the only firm meeting all the eligibility requirements, although several firms applied.
Throughout the process of contracting with Air Miles, the OPA was not interested in playing a consumer protection role. For example, the OPA was asked during the contracting process “If it does not run after 2010 what happens to accumulated points?” The OPA’s response “Points accumulated by consumers during the campaign period are redeemable at any time in accordance with the redemption policy of the successful Proponent.”
As for Chin’s role in that RFP, the OPA has responded to our inquiries stating,
“Ben Chin was responsible for the competitive procurement process through which AIR MILES for Social Change was selected to be the OPA’s loyalty program partner to promote conservation awareness and enrolment in OPA conservation programs.”