‘Scandal’ that never came to light

April 2, 2014   ·   0 Comments

POLITICAL SCANDALS almost invariably involve money, often include elements of corruption, and usually include coverups.

Watergate, unquestionably the biggest scandal of the 20th Century in the United States, didn’t involve money, yet led to the resignation of President Richard Nixon mainly because of attempts to cover up the true nature of the June 17, 1972 break-in at the Democratic National Committee headquarters at the Watergate office complex in Washington, D.C.

In Ontario, the biggest scandal in recent years has been the decision to cancel two highly controversial power projects in Oakville and Mississauga, a decision that left the government open to up to $1.1 billion in costs related to breaches of contracts with the firms that were to build the two natural gas stations.

As with Watergate, there have been hints of a high-tech coverup, involving the “wiping” of computer hard drives that may or may not have had incriminating emails, with police apparently looking at laying breach-of-trust charges against David Livingston, who at the time was then-premier Dalton McGuinty’s chief of staff.

There’s little doubt that the opposition Conservatives and New Democrats see the vote-getting potential of the scandal, noting that Premier Kathleen Wynne, as a member of the McGuinty cabinet, must have participated in the decision to cancel the plants, thereby saving several seats in the 2011 provincial election.

Much less likely is any pre-election inquiry into the process that led to the decision to have the gas plants built in locations where they would inevitably cause huge local opposition.

All that’s now known is that a law passed in 1998 by the Mike Harris Conservatives set the stage for the scandalous cancellations.

The Energy Competition Act, 1998, broke up Ontario Hydro, replacing it with   five companies, the two main ones being Ontario Power Generation (OPG) and Hydro One, while detaching Ontario Hydro’s $19.5 billion debt, which was to be paid down by Ontario power consumers through a Debt Retirement Charge.

But while OPG was left to handle generation of power and Hydro One its transmission, neither public utility was assigned the important task of long-range power planning, a task that had become particularly daunting for Ontario Hydro.

The result was that power planning became a political hot potato, with the Liberals campaigning on a promise to replace coal-fired power generation with “green energy” by, among other things, closing all the coal-fired power plants and encouraging wind and solar energy plants.

Historically, long-range power planning involved collaboration between Ontario Hydro and the government, with both the federal and provincial governments becoming involved in nuclear power projects. The public also became involved, particularly in the planning of transmission lines.

Having promised to close all the province’s coal-fired power plants, the McGuinty government must have been warned of the need for energy to replace that lost by the planned closing of the coal-fired Lakeview Generating Station.

Today, the big unanswered question is a simple one: why on earth did the government not opt either to convert the Lakeview station to natural gas rather than tear it down, and why to this day has the Lakeview site seemingly never even been considered as the logical site for a new “gas plant”?

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