Former Ontario premier Dalton McGuinty ordered the cancellation of a controversial gas-fired power plant and dispatched a top adviser to deal with the company slated to build it, a legislative committee heard Tuesday.
Jamison Steeve, a high-ranking official in Mr. McGuinty’s office, testified that he began discussions with TransCanada Corp., which was contracted to construct the Oakville plant, in June of 2010.
At the time, the project was under increasing pressure. Area residents were protesting and the town passed a bylaw to stop it from being built. For the plant to go forward, either the Ontario Municipal Board or the legislature would have had to overrule the local council.
In October of that year, the plant was kiboshed and moved to Napanee. Asked who made the call, Mr. Steeve responded it was Mr. McGuinty and then-energy minister Brad Duguid.
The opposition accuses the government of killing the Oakville plant and another in Mississauga to hold on to seats in the 2011 election. The combined cost of ending both projects is at least $230-million.
For six months after the cancellation, Mr. Steeve kept meeting with TransCanada’s representatives at his Queen’s Park office. Eventually, senior bureaucrats ordered him to stay out of the talks.
Under questioning from opposition members on the committee, who accuse the government of deliberately withholding documents related to the plants, Mr. Steeve said he had no knowledge of the papers and suggested the Tories and the NDP were playing politics.
“I don’t think the release of documents would have ended the pursuit of the premier or the minister,” he said.
Liberal MPP Bob Delaney played down Mr. Steeve’s involvement on the file.
“He wasn’t involved in a decision or in negotiations,” he said, characterizing Mr. Steeve’s meetings with TransCanada as “outreach” and “stakeholder relations.”
But Progressive Conservative MPP Vic Fedeli pointed to oblique references to Mr. McGuinty in government documents on the plants to argue that his staff had meddled in the file.
“Obviously out of the premier’s office, a deal was done,” he said.
NDP MPP Peter Tabuns, for his part, said the province should have forced TransCanada to pay the cost of mothballing the plant.
“The government of Ontario could have said: ‘You’re big boys. You signed on this contract, you knew there was a risk. You can’t build: too bad, so sad. Your problem,” he said.
The Liberals have maintained that it was better to make a deal with TransCanada to move the plant than to simply end the contract.