Former Ontario premier Dalton McGuinty lashed out at the committee investigating his government’s costly cancellation of two gas-fired power plants, arguing the whole thing is nothing more than a “partisan exercise” bent on “destroying” the Liberals.
In testimony before the committee and during a subsequent press conference Tuesday, Mr. McGuinty launched an all-out defence of his legacy, accusing the opposition parties of trying to thwart his successor, Premier Kathleen Wynne, and likening them to the ancient Romans who sacked the city of Carthage.
At one point, he chided all those who judge politicians.
It was Mr. McGuinty’s first public appearance since resigning as an MPP earlier this month, and he swiftly dropped the fatherly aloofness that had been his political trademark for 23 years.
“This is not a determined effort to pursue the truth. This committee is a partisan exercise, and I think we need to be honest about that,” he said. “This committee, dominated as it is by the opposition, is prejudiced in favour of the defeat of a government, and that colours everything that they do.”
Progressive Conservative and New Democratic MPPs grilled the former premier on his staff’s deletion of e-mails that may have shed light on the power-plant cancellations. Why, they asked, had the government broken its own transparency legislation – the Archives and Record-Keeping Act – by purging documents?
Mr. McGuinty blamed the law itself.
“These rules are conflicting, they are messy, they are confusing,” he said.
Besides which, he added, he had more important things to do.
“You might imagine then that the premier’s day is pretty full, so I don’t give much thought to the archives act. I don’t give much thought to the management of e-mails,” he said. “But I do give thought to creating jobs. I do give thought to ensuring we improve the quality of health care. And I do give a lot of thought to improving the quality of our education. That’s what I focused on.”
Progressive Conservative energy critic Vic Fedeli said it made little sense for Mr. McGuinty to blame his own party’s laws for giving staffers the idea it was all right to delete e-mails.
“If it was so unclear, they should have cleared it up when they drafted the legislation. I found it very clear,” he said.
NDP MPP Peter Tabuns argued that adversarial partisanship is par for the course in a multiparty democracy. “It’s no more biased than a court of law where you have a defence and you have a prosecution, and they try to work through the information so a jury can make a decision,” he said.
But Mr. McGuinty countered that, even if people at Queen’s Park understand the rules of the game, those outside do not know the difference between partisan jousting and actual findings of wrongdoing.
Referencing the Tories who asked the Ontario Provincial Police to investigate the gas plant scandal, he said: “Calling in the police has now become a political tactic … you and I understand this is part of a partisan exercise, but many Ontarians do not.”
But it was his legacy that seemed to concern Mr. McGuinty most.
During his near-decade in power, he built a reputation as a cautious, managerial leader who made steady improvements to the social safety net, made major strides on environmental protection and steered the province through the global recession. He was visibly rankled by the suggestion that the plant cancellations – which cost an estimated $585-million and were widely seen as a political ploy to win seats in the 2011 election – would overshadow his achievements.
When reporters questioned him on the subject, he pushed back.
“[Politics] is a contact sport,” he said. “There are many who enjoy the comfort and the convenience of the sidelines and they get to pass judgment on a regular basis on those who step into the play.”