When Dalton McGuinty, the former premier of Ontario, testified on Tuesday to the provincial legislature’s justice committee, he was not entirely able to remove suspicions that the timing of his cancellation of two gas-fired power generation plants had something to do with the election of 2011. Moreover, he could not displace an impression that he was oblivious to the real costs of the cancellations.
The Ontario election of October, 2011, produced a minority government. The Liberals, Mr. McGuinty’s party, were one seat short of a majority. If they had been anxious about losing any single seat, their worries were well founded. The MPPs for the ridings where the gas plants had been commenced, Kevin Flynn in Oakville and Charles Sousa in Mississauga South (now the Minister of Finance), were re-elected.
Mr. Flynn was open and effective. In March, 2010, he introduced a private member’s bill to cancel the Oakville plant, contrary to the Liberal government’s policy at the time. The government yielded to him in October, 2010. Mississauga is near Oakville, in Peel Region; not surprisingly, in the heat of the election campaign, the Mississauga plant came to its own untimely end.
Mr. McGuinty is emphatic that his decisions were based on the plants’ being too close to homes, schools and hospitals, but at the outset the public health department of Peel had sought the opinion of the chief medical officer of Ontario, Dr. Arlene King. She concluded that the plants would not harm the health of the public. No doubt, Mr. McGuinty was entitled to form a different opinion, a couple of years later.
It is noteworthy that Tim Hudak, the Conservative Leader, spoke against the Mississauga power plant during the campaign, too. The Liberals may have compounded their difficulties in the way they unwound this project, but the Official Opposition had demanded the cancellation.
Motives are notoriously hard to prove, and human beings are often skilled at deceiving themselves about the relative weightings within their mixed motives. Mr. McGuinty’s word should be accepted, but the ineptitude in the whole episode can hardly be denied.