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Dwight Duncan, provincial Minister of Finance, is scrummed outside a cabinet meeting at Queens Park on Oct 16 2012. (Fred Lum/The Globe and Mail)
Dwight Duncan, provincial Minister of Finance, is scrummed outside a cabinet meeting at Queens Park on Oct 16 2012. (Fred Lum/The Globe and Mail)

Gas-plant cancellations won’t affect Ontarians much, former finance minister says Add to ...

The effect of cancelling two gas-fired power plants at a cost of up to $1.1-billion is not as bad as the opposition parties are making it out to be, former Ontario Liberal finance minister Dwight Duncan says.

Testifying Thursday before a legislative committee probing the cancellations, the long-time cabinet minister also took responsibility for decisions that drove cancellation costs up – and said Premier Kathleen Wynne had nothing to do with them.

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The Liberals cancelled the plants, in the Toronto suburbs of Mississauga and Oakville, in what was widely seen as a ploy to win area seats in the 2011 election.

“At the end of the day, we regret this,” Mr. Duncan said. “The taxpayers and ratepayers will be paying costs they did not have to.”

However, he said, the fact that the costs will be spread out over the course of several years and distributed among so many electricity users in the province means the actual affect on individual hydro bills will not be huge.

“It’s not what the opposition has made it out to be,” Mr. Duncan said.

Progressive Conservative MPP John Yakabuski fired back: “If someone stole a million dollars from the Royal Bank, it might only cost each depositor a dollar. But we wouldn’t go and pin a medal on the robber.”

Mr. Duncan also took partial responsibility for a key decision that put Ontario in a poor negotiating position.

During talks with the company building the Oakville plant, the province waived its right to use provisions in the contract meant to minimize the damages Queen’s Park would have to pay. Mr. Duncan said the decision to do this was made by himself and former premier Dalton McGuinty.

Speaking with reporters afterward, he said that choice was made because it may have been more expensive to face a lawsuit over the cancellation.

“What would have happened if we had gone down that and lost? What would the cost have been?” he said.

He also tried to absolve Mr. McGuinty’s successor, Ms. Wynne, of responsibility. At the time of the cancellations, Ms. Wynne was a high-ranking cabinet minister in Mr. McGuinty’s government.

“Premier Wynne, at the time, was not directly involved in this. I was. Dalton McGuinty was,” he said.

The opposition parties pointed to a cabinet document that Ms. Wynne signed, along with several colleagues, authorizing negotiations over the Oakville plant cancellation. But Mr. Duncan said Ms. Wynne simply signed it because it required the approval of several cabinet ministers, and that she took no part in making the decisions.

“You’re mischaracterizing her role in this,” he said. “She was not making decisions.”

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