The Liberals are busting out the big guns, in the form of popular Mississauga Mayor Hazel McCallion, as they push back against opposition attacks on the government’s costly decision to cancel two gas-fired electricity plants in the Toronto suburbs.
The party will call Ms. McCallion as a witness at a legislative committee investigating the projects, which were to have been built in Mississauga and Oakville. The long-time civic leader, who opposed the Mississauga plant, brought her legendary political capital to bear in supporting Kathleen Wynne’s bid for the Liberal leadership earlier this year.
And she has made no secret of her disdain for the opposition’s handling of the gas-plant file. During a talk at the Toronto and Region Board of Trade last week, Ms. McCallion accused the Progressive Conservatives and New Democrats of attempting “character assassination” when they called for inquiries into the plant shutterings.
The Liberals are looking to underscore the widespread opposition to the facilities and how loudly locals cheered when the plants were mothballed. Other gas-plant opponents on the party’s witness list are Oakville Mayor Rob Burton, and ratepayer group members Frank Clegg and Greg Rohn.
The Grits will also call Jim Hines, chair of the Ontario Power Authority.
The committee got under way Tuesday after procedural wrangling between the Liberals and the Progressive Conservatives. The first witnesses could appear as early as Thursday morning to be questioned by MPPs on the committee.
The Tories’ first witnesses are three experts on parliamentary procedure – former House of Commons Speaker Peter Milliken, academic Ned Franks and former Commons law clerk Rob Walsh – as well as former energy minister Chris Bentley and Peter Wallace, the head of the province’s civil service.
The full PC list of prospective witnesses contains 104 names, including Ms. Wynne and former premier Dalton McGuinty, in addition to numerous Liberal staffers from Mr. McGuinty’s office and the 2011 election campaign.
The New Democrats, meanwhile, want to bring in Jamison Steeve, a former adviser to Mr. McGuinty; energy analyst Bruce Sharpe; deputy Energy Minister Serge Imbrogno; JoAnne Butler, an OPA vice-president and civil servant Jesse Kulendran. Ms. Kulendran, a former political staffer, was referred to in a leaked memo as having given instructions to bureaucrats on what power plant-related documents to release.
The government cancelled the Oakville plant in 2010 and the Mississauga one in 2011 in what was widely seen as a ploy to win votes in those ridings. The government released thousands of pages of documents related to the plants in three different tranches.
Part of the committee’s job will be to determine whether the Liberals deliberately tried to avoid releasing documents, as the opposition has alleged, and were in contempt of parliament. On Tuesday, Speaker Dave Levac ruled against a separate Tory attempt to find the government in contempt.
With a report from Sunny Dhillon