A highly-anticipated report into the cost of cancelling a controversial gas plant in Mississauga will be released Monday, providing the first indication of whether Ontario’s Liberal government has told the truth on the matter.
The Liberals decided to kill the unpopular project shortly before the 2011 election, in what was seen as a play to hang on to seats in the area. They have pegged the price tag for ending construction at $190-million.
Last fall, Auditor-General Jim McCarter was asked to tally up the cost and provide a definitive answer, which will be contained in his 24-page report. A separate audit into a second plant nixed by the Liberals, in Oakville, was ordered later. It will not come out until later this year.
The plant cancellations are also being probed by a legislative committee, which heard Tuesday that a top Liberal staffer held meetings with the company contracted to build the Oakville plant and asked bureaucrats to come up with a dollar figure on what the government would pay for the cancellation.
Craig McLennan, chief of staff to former energy ministers Chris Bentley and Brad Duguid, testified that he met three times with TransCanada, along with a staff member from former premier Dalton McGuinty’s office.
During the sensitive talks, he said, the government withheld some gas plant-related documents that had been demanded by the opposition so as to not jeopardize the negotiations.
“The minister decided not to release the documents to protect the people,” he said.
But Mr. McLennan said he did not know or could not remember the exact dollar amounts the government discussed for ending the plant, and that he had deleted some gas plant related emails as part of the regular cleanup of his inbox. These assertions drew the ire of the opposition.
“We have another Liberal … [saying]: I don’t know, I can’t remember, I wasn’t there. The coverup continues,” said Progressive Conservative energy critic Vic Fedeli.
“There’s a terrible amnesia problem in this inquiry,” said NDP MPP Peter Tabuns, who described the deletion of e-mails as “destruction of documents.”
Earlier in the day, the Progressive Conservatives released an internal Ontario Power Authority document that shows the agency has hired lawyers to prep its staff before going into committee hearings. The engagement letter – dated Jan. 25 of this year – indicates that OPA will pay Tom Curry, a lawyer with Lenczner Slaght, $600 an hour for his services.
Government House Leader John Milloy said it was only fair that, given the seriousness of the politically-charged proceedings, witnesses should have access to legal advice.
“Witnesses are coming forward before a committee where we’ve seen no end of shenanigans – some days it’s been a fishing trip that would make Jacques Cousteau blush,” he said.