Florida used to have a notorious, malfunctioning electric chair. Affectionately known as ‘Old Sparky,’ it grabbed headlines for setting the odd condemned person on fire.
Ontario also has such a device, the energy minister’s seat at the provincial cabinet table. Call it a political death chair. When rookie Premier Kathleen Wynne introduced her first cabinet Monday, Ottawa MPP Bob Chiarelli found himself in the energy hot seat. He may yet have to be strapped in.
Energy has been a red-hot file for the Liberals, and for every recent Ontario government, because politicians have insisted on playing politics with power — from freezing rates for political advantage, to coddling the old Ontario Hydro’s empire builders.
For the Liberals, the difference now is no one can afford those costly indulgences — certainly not the province, with its $12 billion budget shortfall, nor taxpayers or electricity consumers. Not the Grits, either — not if Wynne hopes to do better than cling to power by her fingernails with her fragile minority government.
We saw the damaging effects of treating electricity like a political play toy during the gas-plants scandal last fall. As the heat grew on the government over the fiasco, Dalton McGuinty abruptly shut down the legislature and announced his departure from office after nine years. That led to Wynne being crowned the handoff premier last month.
Thrown under the bus was the last energy minister, Chris Bentley, who faced a rare contempt citation in the legislature when the government couldn’t explain how, in the lead-up to the 2011 election, it quietly killed two gas-fired power plants in Toronto-area Liberal ridings and stuck taxpayers with a $230 million tab.
The fallout killed any leadership ambitions Bentley might have had. That the London lawyer couldn’t wait to scram was confirmed days ago when he said he will quit as an MPP this Thursday, not waiting — as he’d first said — until the next election is called.
For the rest of this column, please go to the London Free Press website: http://www.lfpress.com/2013/02/12/energy-boss-bob-chiarelli-may-yet-burn-on-hot-seat