After Ontario’s new auditor general, Bonnie Lysyk, presented her report on how much it would cost for the cancellation of the Mississauga and Oakville gas plants as well as the relocation and future outlay of the gas plant for Oakville – a shocking $1.1 billion – it would be easy to pillory the Liberal government as the Opposition Progressive Conservatives and New Democratic Party (NDP) are doing.
But will it cost the Liberals in the next election? We won’t know until next year following the spring budget if the opposition parties join together to bring down this minority government and force an election. And, as much as Conservative leader Tim Hudak may want one, there won’t be any non-confidence votes. In Ontario, unless the government in power agrees to allow for such a vote one would not take place and it is unlikely that Premier Kathleen Wynne and her Liberals will agree to one.
Wynne is in the very difficult position of having to answer for what is really Dalton McGuinty’s mess. McGuinty felt a lot of heat from the Opposition over this debacle and to put an end to it, he quit as premier last October.
The lead up to this billion-dollar boondoggle began a decade ago, after the massive power failure that affected all of Ontario and the northeastern United States. McGuinty had made a point of promising that his government would replace coal-fired plants and it was also clear that regions where the energy need was exceeding availability would have to be considered. That meant Mississauga and Oakville.
So why was the site for the coal-fired plant in Lakeview that supplied Mississauga not used for the gas plant? The simple answer is politics.
The Oakville site, on the other hand, was strongly rejected by residents who expressed concern it was too close to nearby rail lines and schools. There is also residual anger that TransCanada Energy, the private company contracted to build the plants, did not consult with area residents before going ahead with construction.
All three major parties made campaign promises to cancel the plants, but where McGuinty got in trouble was in the timing of the cancellation of the Mississauga plant – two days before the 2011 provincial election – which was widely criticized as a cynical move to hold on to Liberal seats. The Oakville plant had been cancelled a year earlier. Relocating the Oakville plant to Nappanee along with transporting energy from that distance to Oakville and other future fees will cost hydro customers and taxpayers in general some $675 million according to Lysyk’s report. That will begin to show up on utility bills in 2017 when the Nappanee gas plant is set to come on line.
Energy rates in Ontario are already among the highest in North America. At a time when energy costs are actually falling all across the U.S., our rates are about to go up again, and we are still paying a debt retirement charge for debts left by Hydro One when the Ontario electricity sector was restructured 14 years ago.
Provincial politicians have provided all kinds of explanations for how this happened in the first place. What is missing from their conversation, however, is how they plan to be accountable for the financial burden that is being passed along to ordinary citizens. Wynne has said she is sorry for this mess and has promised to put a system in place to prevent this from ever happening again.
The Liberals have to understand that Ontarians expect accountability, because it is not just the troubling future cost to retire this new energy debt that is an issue, it is that the Liberals have shown themselves to be careless when managing Ontarians’ money.
Anger over the $1.1-billion figure for two gas plants must be understood in the context of the billion-dollar spending debacle and lack of oversight of the Ornge air ambulance file as well as the billion-dollar tag attached to spending improprieties with eHealth.
In light of all this and with Ontario’s debt approaching $270 billion, Wynne has agreed to an NDP proposal for a financial accountability office. But is it enough?