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power plants

Don Guy is photographed during the hearings into the Ornge accountability scandal.Fred Lum/The Globe and Mail

The news sparked a political firestorm in the dying days of the election campaign: if re-elected, the Liberals pledged to scrap a power plant vehemently opposed by local residents.

Opposition members have accused the government of pulling the plug on plans to build power plants in Mississauga and Oakville to save Liberal seats during the 2011 Ontario election.

They will have their first opportunity to question a key architect of the Liberals' election victory on Tuesday, when Don Guy, campaign co-manager and a close adviser to former premier Dalton McGuinty, testifies at a legislative committee probing the cancelled power plants.

"We'd like to know what exactly went on leading up to that decision," Peter Tabuns, a New Democrat MPP on the committee, said in an interview on Sunday. "My guess is they knew there was a danger they wouldn't get a majority, and they were really desperate to get a few more seats."

Vic Fedeli, a Progressive Conservative committee member, said on Sunday that Mr. Guy was the campaign "kingpin."

"This was a decision made by Don Guy and the campaign," Mr. Fedeli said in an interview.

The Liberals announced on Sept. 24, 2011 – less than two weeks before the election that reduced them to a minority – that they would cancel the gas-fired power plant already under construction in Mississauga.

The Liberals won all five seats in the region, but the $585-million cost of scrapping the projects has left them embroiled in scandal.

Mr. McGuinty testified last May that it was his decision to cancel the projects. His office also made sure ministers delivered the same message, according to documents recently released to the committee.

Former energy minister Chris Bentley's published comments a year ago, saying unnamed campaign officials made the decision via a Liberal Party press release, did not go over well in Mr. McGuinty's office.

Media stories containing his comments quickly circulated throughout the premier's office. "Really?!," came the terse reaction from David Livingston, Mr. McGuinty's chief of staff at the time, in an e-mail to his deputy, Laura Miller.

In an effort to regain control over the narrative, Ms. Miller wrote an e-mail to Mr. Bentley's chief of staff, saying the government ultimately made the decision.

"Can we determine if this was a Cabinet or Treasury Board conversation and move this discussion off of the party and over to government?" she said in a July 11, 2012, e-mail. "Governments make the decisions here not [Ontario Liberal Party] Platforms or Press Releases."

Shortly after, Ms. Miller sent another e-mail, saying, "He needs to communicate and own it," and Mr. McGuinty's press secretary, Neala Barton, was dispatched to deliver the message to Mr. Bentley.

"Response: 'duly noted,' " Ms. Barton reported back. "He says he'll consider a change."

Mr. Bentley did end up changing his tune, and there was virtually no mention of any involvement by the Liberal campaign in the following weeks and months.

In his testimony, Mr. McGuinty said he cancelled the projects because they would have been located too close to schools and residences.

"He said he did it for the children," Mr. Tabuns said on Sunday. "I think he did it for the seats."