The fallout from the campaign decision in 2010 by former premier, Dalton McGuinty, to terminate construction of gas plants in Oakville and Mississauga has become the Ontario Liberal government and Premier Kathleen Wynne’s worst nightmare. If this were a movie, it would be called ‘The Thing that wouldn’t Die’, thanks in no small part to the Progressive Conservatives and leader Tim Hudak’s dogged resolve to mine the scandal for all it’s worth in their single-minded goal of reclaiming leadership of the provincial government.
McGuinty’s cynical ploy of making good on an election campaign promise to cancel construction of power plants that residents in Oakville and Mississauga had fought against, in exchange for voter support in those ridings, didn’t help much; the Liberals still ended up with a minority government.
Now come the allegations that the computer savvy boyfriend of a former deputy chief of staff is involved in making related evidence disappear. The Ontario Provincial Police allege that Peter Faist, a contract hire, wiped clean a number of hard drives in McGuinty’s office to remove information that would have shed light on the maneuverings behind the cancellations reported to cost some $1.1 billion in penalties and plant relocation.
Regardless of Wynne’s denial of any knowledge or involvement in this matter, the fact is that Faist was still on the Liberal party payroll, working as an information technology contract worker up until this past Sunday when he was let go following an “internal investigation”. That is, after the news of his alleged involvement broke.
Faist’s name figures in a larger investigation in which the OPP alleges breach of trust by former McGuinty Chief of Staff David Livingston, who they say used Faist’s services to wipe hard-drives in McGuinty’s office.
So yes, Wynne would have to come out fighting in reaction to attacks from Hudak that she “oversaw and possibly ordered the destruction” of government documents. Hudak has made some serious charges that are clearly being played for political gain.
Damage control including Wynne clearly and immediately stating that the alleged events would have occurred before she took over the office is to be expected. Demanding Hudak cease and desist his inflammatory remarks is understandable, but her threats to commence legal action citing libel against Hudak is as exaggerated as Hudak’s own grandstanding.
Political maneuvering is a high stakes, aggressive game and Wynne would have to have gone into her quest for the job of premier – which meant taking on the mess McGuinty was leaving behind – with eyes wide open. She must have known that she was taking on a battle. That is why absenting herself from the Legislature on Monday this week in the heat of the onslaught from the Opposition may have been tactical, but also problematic.
It bears noting that these latest revelations in connection with the gas plant scandal and Hudak’s emphasis on unproven charges come just ahead of the spring budget, expected on May 1. This budget is widely expected to be designed to either forestall an anticipated spring election, should they win the usual New Democratic Party (NDP) support, or barring NDP support, one on which the Liberals could campaign. They are already leaking information about the kind of Liberal-style spending in which they intend to engage.
The Wynne Liberals will no doubt try to hold on to their term in office until the absolute election deadline in 2015 in the hope it will give them enough time to convince voters that this premier is no McGuinty.
And, while Hudak uses this latest revelation to drive another nail into the Liberal coffin, he should bear in mind that even though the Liberals have much to answer for in this and other troubling matters of abuse of public trust and fiscal waste, his own over the top tactics are not winning him any new support.
Before this latest bombshell, one poll had the Liberals in the lead, but the separation between the three parties is fairly close, with the NDP in second place and the PCs running third.