TORONTO – Premier Kathleen Wynne dismissed opposition calls Monday for a judicial inquiry into cancelled gas plants in Oakville and Mississauga, but the Progressive Conservatives vowed to set one up anyway — if they win the next election.
“It has become increasingly clear that the only way to get to the bottom of the gas plant scandals is for the next government to have a judicial inquiry,” said PC energy critic Vic Fedeli.
The Conservatives don’t support the NDP’s call for a public inquiry into the cancelled energy projects, agreeing with the Liberals that it would be too expensive, but instead want a judge to head any probe.
“Compared to a public inquiry, which can be chaired by anyone and does not prevent political interference, a judicial inquiry…elevates the level of independence of the investigation,” said Fedeli.
Wynne rejected the Tories’ demand for a judicial inquiry and their call for a second committee to investigate the cancellations — the legislature’s justice committee is already looking into the release of the gas plant documents.
“It’s confusing in terms of exactly what it is the opposition is asking for. Every day there seems to be a different request,” she said.
“I have said consistently for weeks now, and certainly since these questions have been coming into the house, that it is our absolute objective to make sure that every piece of information is available.”
The auditor general’s investigation into the cost of the gas plants and the justice committee will get the answers the opposition parties are looking for, added Wynne.
“It is not our intention to set up a very expensive public inquiry process,” she said.
“I do not believe that that is necessary because we have other mechanisms in order to get the information into the public realm.”
The opposition parties are convinced there are still more documents on the cancellation of the gas plants, which the Liberals say cost Ontario taxpayers $230 million but the Tories and NDP place at closer to $1 billion.
“After months of misleading Ontario taxpayers about the more than $1 billion wasted to save five Liberal seats in the 2011 election, we know we cannot trust the Liberal government to get to the bottom of this scandal,” said Fedeli.
“Every time we get close, the guilty parties shut down our investigations.”
Then-premier Dalton McGuinty prorogued the legislature and announced his resignation last Oct. 15, less than 24 hours before committee hearings were to begin into the Liberals’ decision to scrap the two gas plants.
The Mississauga plant was halted in mid-construction two weeks before the Oct. 2011 election, while the Oakville gas plant was scrapped the year before amid widespread local opposition.
Wynne also dismissed accusations Monday that she misled the public and the legislature when she said all the documents on cancelled gas plants were released months ago, when another 600 pages turned up last Thursday.
“At every point when I stood in this legislature, when my colleagues stood in this legislature, we were talking about the information we had,” she said.
“That was as we understood it at that moment, that all of the documents had been made available. That is the case, that every single one of us said we believed at the moment what we had been told.”
But the Conservatives and NDP said Wynne and her cabinet must have known that the Ontario Power Authority advised the deputy minister of energy last November that there “likely” would be more documents unearthed on the gas plants.
“There’s no way that the deputy minister was told back in November and nobody realized that it was their responsibility to actually be clear with the public and the opposition that more documents may in fact come forward,” said NDP Leader Andrea Horwath.
New Energy Minister Bob Chiarelli said the OPA did indeed brief the ministry last fall that it was looking for more documents.
“My understanding is that the minister was told that they were reviewing their search methods and mechanisms and there might be some documents that might eventually turn up, but there was no certainty at all,” said Chiarelli.
“It’s not going to be helpful at this point to say he said she said and to start parsing words and make interpretations.”