One nasty piece of business that will need to be dealt with when the Ontario Legislature returns in February is the ongoing natural gas plant scandal.
In an admission of guilt, the Premier has apologized, and the Liberal Party has repaid the $10,000 of taxpayers’ money used to cover up the $1.1- billion spent to not only meet the southwest Greater Toronto Area’s growing need for electricity but also to save the seats of five GTA MPPs.
Questions remain and are outlined in the recently-released Opposition dissenting report to the Standing Committee on Justice. The OPP allege the premier’s Chief of Staff directed the boyfriend of his Deputy to destroy computer records for the fee of $10,000. The present government still refuses to turn over thousands of back-up tapes where deleted gas plant emails could be located. More than 1,200 back-up tapes belong to Premier Wynne.
The fiasco started in September 2009 with a bid to build a power natural gas generating station in Oakville. Yet, just over a year later, after push-back from the community, former Premier McGuinty’s government announced the cancellation.
In June 2011, construction of the Mississauga gas-fired plant commenced. Again, protests followed. Later that summer, an election was called and the Liberal government, in fear of losing seats in the Mississauga and Oakville areas, announced the planned cancellation. However, the government permitted construction to continue during the election, costing the taxpayer even more. The re-elected government waited nearly a year to announce the termination of the Mississauga plant.
In both cases, costs were driven up because of where the Liberals decided to relocate the plants. The Mississauga gas plant is now to be built in Lambton, with the Oakville plant going to the Lennox Generating Station near Napanee. Because they’re being moved so far away from where the power is needed – and in the case of Napanee, far from the source of natural gas, the costs have soared dramatically. As the Auditor General stated the government’s decision to move the Oakville plant so far away from from the GTA was responsible for $513 million in added costs – nearly half of the total $1.1 billion scandal cost!
It bears repeating that generating electricity at Nanticoke Generating Station is much closer to where the power is needed and the towers are already in place.
While we still search for answers regarding the cover-up, the fact remains this self-serving act cost the people of Ontario – as taxpayers and ratepayers – an astounding $1.1 billion. Part of that cost has already shown up on our skyrocketing electricity bills, with more to come.
As Auditor General Bonnie Lysyk has stated, “The gas plant cancellations cost significantly more than may have been necessary” because of a number of what she calls “questionable decisions” by the Premier’s Office.
Again, Ontario’s Opposition has formally recommended the gas plant scandal return to the Justice Committee to deal with ongoing and recent revelations. However there are pressing Liberal priorities – save the killer whale for example. A few years ago, we debated elephants. This is the nature of business at Queen’s Park under a majority government. As the saying goes, “Power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely”.
Clearly questions remain, and the Standing Committee on Justice must be reconvened to continue its investigation.
Toby Barrett is a Progressive Conservative member of the Legislative Assembly of Ontario representing the district of Haldimand—Norfolk. Follow Toby Barrett on twitter: @TobyBarrettMPP