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When Dalton McGuinty’s government announced in the fall of 2010 that it was cancelling a planned power plant in Oakville in response to intense local opposition, a political staffer in the Ministry of Energy sent an email to the deputy minister to provide the highlights.
“It went as well as it could have,” she noted. Near the end was this kicker: “Financially, it’ll be muddy in the papers tomorrow. Province could be on the hook for millions.”
Those sentences, part of a batch of documents released under freedom-of-information laws to energy researcher and writer Tom Adams, provide a tidy summation of the Ontario Liberal approach to the messy business of the Oakville gas-plant shuttering, and the subsequent cancellation of a Mississauga plant during the 2011 election campaign.
For most of two years, the cost of the Oakville decision was unknown to the public. And from the moment a price tag of $40-million was put on it this past fall, skepticism of that number’s accuracy, and the $190-million figure attached to the Mississauga closure, has abounded.
And with good reason. Last week, when Colin Andersen, chief executive of the Ontario Power Authority, presented himself at Queen’s Park to try to explain the spectacular inefficiency of an OPA document search that has led the Liberals to admit twice now, several months apart, that their release of all the documents related to the gas-plant decisions was in fact only a partial release, he was asked flat-out if it the government’s numbers could be trusted. He responded that he would wait for the Auditor-General’s report on the matter.
Note what he didn’t say: $230-million is the right total. It’s not a great leap to conclude he expects the Auditor-General to come up with another, higher number.
That the process has evolved like this, with uncertainty over Liberal assertions, opposition accusations of a cover up and, now, calls for public inquiries, should not come as a surprise. When former energy minister Chris Bentley announced the Oakville settlement in September, he knew the $40-million claim wouldn’t be easily swallowed. “Over the coming days and weeks you will read and hear lots of numbers related to the cost of the plant relocation,” he said in a news release. “The only accurate cost to taxpayers … is $40-million.”
For the rest of this article, please go to the National Post website: http://fullcomment.nationalpost.com/2013/02/27/scott-stinson-inquiry-into-cancelled-ontario-power-plants-would-change-little-for-liberals/