OTTAWA -- You can put lipstick on a slippery pig, but it's still one greasy piece of pork.
That's the message we got from Andre Marin, the province's crusading ombudsman as he released his annual report Tuesday.
His office is still piling up complaints from irate Hydro One customers angry at the giant electricity utility's shocking billing practices.
Hydro One became a target for Marin earlier this year after he received thousands of reports about Hydro One's faulty billing practices.
Among the complaints, people who signed up for pre-authorized payments found their accounts cleaned out. Customers who had been getting bills for $200 a month suddenly had their bills spike to thousands of dollars. And they had no choice about paying.
In a shakedown that would put a con artist to shame, Hydro One simply emptied out their accounts.
Marin told reporters Monday his office now has now received 7,961 complaints.
I'm not surprised. Hydro One is one of the most arrogant, out-of-touch organizations I've ever dealt with.
Marin said dealing with the giant utility is like wrestling a "slippery pig" -- which is an accurate description, from my experience with them.
Complaints ranged from unintelligible billing, erratic billing and unexplained withdrawals from customers' accounts.
There were also cases of overbilling, lack of meter readings and smart meter malfunctions, Marin said.
His favourite story is that of a customer whose house had burned down and who continued to get a bill from Hydro One.
"It's actually quite incredible," Marin told reporters.
"For many of these people, it has been a hopeless quagmire and we started this investigation because we felt it was like wrestling with a slippery pig," he said.
Marin said that while Hydro One has been co-operative, there's still work to do.
"Hydro One may have staunched the bleeding, but the patient is still critical," he said.
Hydro One CEO Carmine Marcello responded to Marin's report saying the utility is "working tirelessly" to fix the problems.
"Hydro One has reviewed the ombudsman's annual report and would like its customers to know that we have been working tirelessly -- and have made progress -- to resolve the customer service issues currently before us.
"We are taking the opportunity to not only resolve technical problems that resulted from introducing a new billing system, but to also improve service through new customer-friendly policies and by changing our customer service culture," Marcello said in a statement.