What does the cancellation of two gas-fired power plants have in common with the American moon shot? In both cases, the government didn’t know what the price tag would be, but went ahead and did it anyway.
You might expect such a joke to come from an opposition party, but on Thursday, Ontario’s Liberal government itself made the comparison.
“Just the same way as when the United States committed to go to the moon, they didn’t know how much it was going to cost,” Mississauga MPP Bob Delaney told reporters. “All they knew was that one way or the other, they were going to get there.”
The government put the brakes on the unpopular plants – in the Toronto suburbs of Mississauga and Oakville – in what was seen as a play to hold onto seats in the 2011 election.
This week, the province’s Auditor-General revealed the cost of cancelling the Mississauga plant was $275-million, higher than the $190-million the Liberals had previously claimed. He testified at a legislative committee that the Ontario Power Authority was aware of this added cost by last summer.
A further audit of the costs of cancelling the Oakville plant is due out in August or September.
Mr. Delaney’s assertion promptly launched opposition attacks.
“The costs are going to go through the roof, right to the moon,” said Progressive Conservative energy critic Vic Fedeli.
NDP MPP Peter Tabuns, meanwhile, said in the legislature the government ought to have at least been in the loop by last summer, when the OPA had paid the majority of gas-plant cancellation costs.
“By July, the eagle had landed and the costs were known. But for nine months, the Liberal government has been telling Ontarians the cost was something otherwise,” he said.
Energy Minister Bob Chiarelli backed up Mr. Delaney and suggested that, even today, he does not know exactly what the total price will be for ending the Oakville plant. When the government promised to kibosh the projects and move them to other parts of the province, he said, “the costs were not known of relocation, that’s a fact.”
“We responded to the people of Mississauga and to the people of Oakville,” he said, adding later: “We were provided information from the Ontario Power Authority … the Auditor-General is looking into it and we’re going to rely on the Auditor-General’s report.”
Committee hearings resume next week, when the Liberals plan to call former energy minister Chris Bentley. Last fall, the Tories tried to have him held in contempt of parliament after they alleged gas-plant-related documents had been withheld by the government.
Whether the opposition believed him or not, Mr. Delaney’s analogy provided an unusual moment of levity in the investigation of provincial energy policy.
At one point, Mr. Fedeli broke into a rendition of Fly Me to the Moon as MPPs mingled in a Queen’s Park hallway after the daily Question Period.
“Houston,” he quipped on Twitter, “we have a problem.”