Wynne says public inquiry into cancelled gas plants too expensive

TORONTO – The NDP’s demand for a public inquiry into the Liberal government’s decision to cancel power plants in Oakville and Mississauga would cost too much, premier-designate Kathleen Wynne said Thursday.

It has already cost Ontario taxpayers at least $230 million to scrap the two gas-fired generating stations, and a government facing an $11.9 billion deficit has to be careful how it spends its money, added Wynne.

“To spend millions of dollars on a public inquiry, that’s not something that I would like to do,” she told reporters.

Wynne has not ruled out a call from the Progressive Conservatives to reform a legislative committee to investigate the decisions to cancel the gas plants, which the opposition parties say were motivated solely by a desire to save Liberal seats in the suburbs west of Toronto.

The committee was shut down last fall just hours before it was to begin hearings when Premier Dalton McGuinty announced he was resigning and prorogued the legislature until the Liberals picked a new leader.

The Tories and New Democrats are convinced the government has not released all the documentation on the cancelled energy projects, even though it put out tens of thousands of pages in two separate packages last fall under a Speaker’s order.

The opposition parties point to an internal email from a worker in the ministry of energy, a former Liberal political staff member, directing the Ontario Power Authority on which of the gas plant documents should be made public and which should be withheld.

“Clearly this was a political staffer who became a bureaucrat, and it raises massive suspicion that there was political involvement and interference in the decision making process about what items were redacted and what weren’t,” said PC critic Rod Jackson.

The New Democrats say they doubt a civil servant would be in a position to dictate to the OPA what documents should be made public unless directed by the government.

“Who was this ministry of energy staffer who was able to go to the Ontario Power Authority, an arms-length agency, and tell them how they were to respond to the questions from the legislature,” asked NDP energy critic Peter Tabuns.

“Who is this person with such power, who directed her, what were her instructions?”

The Liberals stress the person who gave direction to the OPA was a civil servant, not a political staffer, and say the government “did not direct the document search.”

Wynne’s staff says she is still looking at options for dealing with the gas plant issue, and the premier-designate herself suggested there may indeed be more documents on the cancelled projects that haven’t come out.

“I really believe that all the information needs to be public, we need to do everything we can to make that information public,” she said.

The Tories warned they were ready to tie up legislative business as soon as it resumes next month by reviving the contempt of Parliament motion against former energy minister Chris Bentley, which died when McGuinty prorogued the legislature.

“If they don’t act appropriately and call a legislative committee to deal with the questions surrounding the gas plants, it’s a possibility,” said Jackson.

“Contempt is contempt. The issue will certainly rear its head.”

Talk of reviving the contempt motion, which led to some bitter, nasty and personal exchanges in the legislature last fall, flew in the face of Wynne’s efforts to reach out to the opposition leaders in hopes of keeping the minority government alive and improving the level of debate.

“I hope that by engaging with the leaders of the opposition that we’re going to be able to have a different tone in the legislature,” she said Thursday after meeting with McGuinty and Lt.-Gov. David Onley Thursday to begin the process of formally transferring power to the new Liberal leader.