Former Ontario premier testified he cancelled gas plants not knowing the costs

Peter Power/ The Globe and Mail via The Canadian Press

TORONTO, Ontario – Former Ontario premier Dalton McGuinty admitted Tuesday he did not know what it would cost when he made the decisions to cancel planned gas plants in Oakville and Mississauga and move them to other locations.

Testifying under oath at the legislature’s justice committee, McGuinty acknowledged in his opening statement that he made the decisions to scrap the two energy projects, which were widely opposed by local residents.

“In my office, we don’t have the capacity to make calculations associated with these kinds of contractual arrangements, or to make these kinds of estimates as to what ultimate costs might be,” he told the committee.

“I knew that going into this, that when I said we’re going to relocate gas plants, that I did not have at my hand the costs associated with that.”

The estimated cost of tearing up contracts with the developers of the gas plants and building new energy projects in Napanee and Lambton has soared to at least $585 million, far above the $230 million McGuinty and the Liberals had been claiming.

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The gas plants were too close to homes and schools, said McGuinty, and wouldn’t have cleared the rules used to keep giant wind turbines at least 550 metres back from residential neighbourhoods.

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“We were faced with a circumstance where gas plants were sited right next to schools, condominium towers, family homes and a hospital. That wasn’t right,” he said.

“Moving two gas plants cost more than any of us would have liked, and in return for the next 20 years children won’t be going to a neighbourhood school in a shadow of a smokestack, a polluted air shed won’t become more polluted and we’ll still have enough electricity to power our homes and economy.”

Progressive Conservative energy critic Vic Fedeli set the tone for the questioning of the former premier by going on the attack after McGuinty acknowledged it was his decision to cancel the gas plants.

“I must say premier that while you may have masterminded the heist, your henchmen committed the crime and drove the getaway car,” said Fedeli.

McGuinty and Fedeli clashed repeatedly, especially when McGuinty kept insisting the $40-million figure the Liberals had been using for the cost of cancelling the Oakville plant was what he knew to be the facts, until a recent updated figure of $310 million from the Ontario Power Authority.

“You keep saying that I’m not giving you an answer,” complained McGuinty, “Perhaps you don’t like the answer.”

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“No, no, I don’t believe the answer,” said Fedeli. “To be perfectly frank, I don’t believe your answer.”

McGuinty said he took too long to realize the people of Oakville and Mississauga were right to oppose the gas plants and his government was wrong to try and build them.

“What became apparent – at least to me – was that getting out of this was going to be complicated and that there were going to be costs associated with that,” he said.

“But I’d much rather be here today talking to members of this committee, rather than ducking the people of Oakville and Mississauga over the course of the next 20 years as we put in place gas plants which never should have gone in there.”

McGuinty had blamed the heated debate over the gas plant cancellations last fall when he suddenly prorogued the legislature and announced his resignation as premier.

Since then, the auditor general reported the cost of cancelling the Mississauga gas plant during the 2011 election campaign was at least $275 million, $85 million more than McGuinty or the Liberals were admitting.

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