Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty and two of his cabinet ministers are facing the spectre of a rare contempt of Parliament censure over the governing Liberals’ cancellation of two gas-plant projects west of Toronto.
Deputy Progressive Conservative Leader Christine Elliott made the threat on Friday, just hours after the Ministry of Energy and the Ontario Power Authority released 20,000 pages of documents related to the projects. The release caught opposition members off guard, because government members had insisted that everything already had been disclosed.
Bureaucrats took full responsibility, saying in a letter to the Clerk of the Legislative Assembly that it is “regrettable” the additional documents were not identified as part of the ministry’s original search. The opposition did not accept that explanation.
“Clearly, the Liberals are hiding something,” Ms. Elliott told reporters at a hastily-called news conference. “Try as they may to blame this on a bureaucratic mix-up…what we’re really witnessing here is a political cover-up.”
Energy Minister Chris Bentley is already facing a contempt of Parliament motion after the Tories and New Democrats used their majority in the Legislature to vote in favour of having the Finance Committee investigate the government’s decision to pull the plug on the two gas plants. The committee has until Nov. 19 to determine whether Mr. Bentley should be held in contempt for refusing to release documents to a legislative committee last May.
The government released some documents last July, revealing that the Liberals’ mid-campaign decision to cancel a gas-fired power plant slated for Mississauga, which was hotly opposed by residents, cost taxpayers $190-million.
Then on Sept. 24, at the 11th hour before a deadline set by the Speaker Dave Levac, the government disclosed costs associated with cancelling the equally unpopular plant planned for Oakville. The plant, to be built by energy giant TransCanada Corp., will be relocated to Eastern Ontario.
The government said total costs that cannot be applied to the new site are about $40-million. The Tories say the tab for cancelling both is in fact much higher and are now pegging the figure at about $1-billion.
Ms. Elliott said that Mr. McGuinty, Mr. Bentley and Liberal House Leader John Milloy have all told the legislature that the government has disclosed everything there is to disclose on the gas plants. Those statements were “clearly untrue,” she said.
“At one point,” she said, “an apology and true contrition could have solved this scandalous debacle.”
But the Tories now plan to vigorously pursue the contempt motion against Mr. Bentley. And the Tories will look at pursuing a new contempt motion against Mr. McGuinty, Mr. Bentley and Mr. Milloy “because of the lies told in the house about these documents.”
New Democratic MPP Rosario Marchese would not say how his caucus members plan to respond, but he said both Mr. McGuinty and Mr. Bentley are implicated in the controversy.
“When we find there are 20,000 pages that they claimed previously did not exist their credibility is at stake,” Mr. Marchese told reporters.
Mr. Bentley said in a statement that he was told by officials at the ministry and the Ontario Power Authority that all records regarding the projects had been submitted in the original 36,000 pages released to the committee on Sept. 24. He said he is confident the ministry and the OPA acted in good faith to comply with the committee’s request for the documents.
“I am very disappointed that all documents were not captured in the first search,” Mr. Bentley said. “As the minister responsible for the energy portfolio, I take responsibility and regret that documents were inadvertently missed in the initial search.”