10.22.2013 07:35 AM

The truth about the gas plants

Wow.

Oakville mayor Rob Burton has just published a fascinating timeline on his website.  If you care about Ontario politics – if you care about the truth – you should take a few minutes to read it.  It provides facts about the gas plant controversy, not conjecture and bullshit.  Among other things, it exposes the Opposition/media narrative about the gas plants to be wrong, wrong, wrong.

Among the revelations in Burton’s post:

  • In August 2009, Burton meets with Premier Dalton McGuinty to protest the plans of the Ontario Power Authority/Ford Canada/TransCanada Energy to locate a gas plant in a largely residential area.  McGuinty listens to Burton, and starts an inquiry into Oakville’s concerns.
  • In February 2010, the Ontario PCs also come out against the OPA/Ford/TransCanada desired location for the plant.
  • In April 2010, all three parties in the Legislature vote for a Liberal private member’s bill to keep power plants away from neighbourhoods.
  • In June 2010, McGuinty’s inquiry releases its recommendations – and it recommends against what OPA/Ford/TransCanada want. McGuinty listens – and, three months later, cancels it.
  • In September 2010, the PCs appear to reverse themselves, and start advocating for the plant to go in Ward Four, which borders the QEW, a creek, and thousands of homes. (Why? See October 2012, below.)
  • In October 2010, McGuinty cancels the plant, and shuts down OPA/Ford/TransCanada.  The decision is hugely popular in Oakville, and the local paper thanks McGuinty, saying they are glad he made the right decision.
  • In September 2011, PC leader Tim Hudak says he wants to cancel the Mississauga gas plant.  For the government hopes to lead, the cost will be “one billion dollars,” quote unquote.  He says Oakville’s cancellation, which he supports, was also a billion.
  • In the same month, his Mississauga candidate says “a Tim Hudak government will cancel this plant” – which, Burton dryly notes, “matches a Liberal promise” made earlier.
  • In October 2011, McGuinty wins re-election, one seat short of a majority.
  • A year later, in October 2012, the Toronto Sun reveals – as Burton puts it – “the Hudaks get a $40,900 pay-out from TransCanada.”
  • In March 2013, Burton appears before a legislative committee to talk about the gas plants.  He writes:  “I point out all three political parties promise to kill the power plant during the fight and ask them how their cancellation costs would be different.”
  • At the end of his timeline, Burton places the blame for the gas plant mess – and the price tag – squarely on the OPA:  “[they are] responsible for this costly mistake.” They were “reckless,” he writes.

To summarize: all of the political parties were against the gas plant locations.  All acknowledged there’d be a cost for cancellation.

And the ultimate responsibility for the gas plant mess, and the costs?

It lies with bureaucrats.  Not Dalton McGuinty, his staff, or his cabinet.

25 Comments

  1. garrattguy says:

    “the Hudaks get a $40,900 pay-out from TransCanada.” So the PCPO leader was bought? Who knew Con politicians were so dishonest? In Ontario!

  2. TimL says:

    All three might have SAID they were going to cancel it, but looks like the public is only going to remember the ones who actually did it.

  3. Ed Frink says:

    Political attacks are intellectually dishonest, usually.

    Consider the case of Jimmy Carter. He had to make very difficult choices about inflation and instead of kicking the can down the road, he appointed Paul Volcker to chair the fed to institute very high interest rates. This was an act of political courage. It was quite easy to attack Carter on interest rates and inflation because he was the one who inherited many problems that started to occur in the previous administration.

    Reagan beat him handily in the general election. The Republicans have been making hay of Carter now for 30+ years. Even the Democrats blithely dismiss him as a disaster and a loser.

    Funny thing though is that a lot of the reforms for the Reagan revolution had actually begun under Carter: bringing competition in the telephone services industry, dismantling of the beer monopsony and deregulation in many other areas. The real dismantling of the New Deal really started with Carter.

    Herbert Hoover probably gets too much of a bad rap in regards to the Great Depression as well — those were economic forces that were a long time in the making. And Bob Rae, whose name is still political poison to this day was unfortunate enough to be in charge during the severe recession that occurred in the early 1990s.

    • Ottawa Civil servant says:

      This botched gas plant – hell, the whole energy portfolio, from Samsung deal to windmill impositions – has nothing to do with inheriting problems, the global economy or anything else than arrogance, hubris and mind-numbing incompetence.

  4. Mulletaur says:

    “And the ultimate responsibility for the gas plant mess, and the costs?

    It lies with bureaucrats. Not Dalton McGuinty, his staff, or his cabinet.”

    Um, no. The ultimate responsibility lies with the government that created the OPA in the first place – and that would be the McGuinty government in its first year in power.

    Governments don’t get a free pass just because they create supposedly ‘independent’ agencies to deal with their most pressing policy problems. Either govern or fuck off. Period.

    • Brian says:

      It wasn’t enough just to create the OPA. McGuinty appointed John Beck to chair the OPA. At the time the Oakville contract was awarded by the OPA to TransCanada, Beck was also chairman and CEO of construction giant Aecon Group Inc. who had been previously hired by TransCanada to do construction work on 2 other power plants.

  5. liam says:

    We need to start drawing and quartering the companies that are beneficiaries of these billion-dollar boondoggles. I don’t expect my politician or elected member to be a crack negotiator when it comes to trade and/or energy deals. I don’t believe that our politicians have the resources to create a deal that’s good for anyone but the corporations on the receiving end.

    I DO believe that this happens over and over and over again, with corporate recipients ripping Canadians off, left, right and centre. We need a better process to protect taxpayers from this kind of immoral theft.

    • Ottawa Civil Servant says:

      Auditor General: There was an out. Costs to Ontario would have been minimal. Negotiations and litigation required.
      McGuinty ordered it completed during the election. And he wanted it done at any cost. Political direction from the highest levels turned a cancellation expense into a vote buying orgy.

      Mr. Kinsella is smart, but cherry-picking facts and quoting a mayor that got what he wanted (and is therefore supporting his partners in irresponsibility) is insulting.

      Picture it this way: A daycare is on fire wth McGuinty, Hudak and Horwath inside. The alarm sounds, and Hudak and Horwath form a line with the children to leave the building, while McGuinty says they should wait it out. When he finally smells smoke, he charges the door, saving his skin, while Hudak and Horwath watch in horror as he tramples Ontario’s future, screaming everyone run for their lives. Anorderly process becomes a disaster.

      McGuinty’s personal staff then portray the event as bold leadership, which the other parties supported. McGuinty ignores the inquest, claims it is inflating costs, though also claiming his office lacked competency to negotiate or estimate costs.

      I won’t even get into the hidden and destroyed emails now under police investigation.

  6. Anish says:

    I think there’s a bit more to the story here.

    1. The Liberal government was responsible for the OPA. Through briefings and better stakeholder management, they should have stopped the OPA from building these plants.

    2. It took McGuinty close to a year to reverse the OPA on the Oakville plant. Why did he not move quicker?

    3. The cost of cancelling the plants ballooned to $1 billion through the involvement of staffers from McGuinty’s office. If they were not involved the costs may have been reduced.

    No one stole any money and no one gets charged for bad decision making. But this is a typical government agency that is poorly managed and has poor oversight due to the complexities of the file.

  7. Timmy Horton says:

    Picture this: loyal McGuinty Liberal gets pulled over for speeding.

    Mr. Liberal: “But officer, all of the other drivers on the road were speeding too.”

    and

    Mr. Liberal: “But officer, please don’t blame me. It was the my bureaucrat kids in the back seat that were telling me to drive that fast.”

    Judge to Mr. Liberal who decides to fight the ticket: “I’m sorry Mr. Liberal, please don’t try to deflect. You’re going to have to take responsibility. YOU alone were in the driver’s seat.”

  8. Brian says:

    Who benefited from the Oakville gas plant cancellation?
    The cancellation was announced by the provincial government in the very middle of mayor Burton’s campaign for re-election.

  9. Brian says:

    Mayor Burton received a 2006 campaign contribution from a company proposing to build a gas-fired power plant on the border of Oakville and Mississauga.
    http://www.insidehalton.com/news-story/2930037-mayor-returns-750-sithe-campaign-donation/

  10. Brian says:

    The proposal for a gas-fired power plant in or near Oakville dates back to about the year 2000. There’s a lot more history to this prior to the 2009 date noted in this article.

  11. Brian says:

    Here’s my letter from early 2013.
    At the hearing into the costly gas plant scandal the mayor of Oakville echoed the Liberal refrain that things could not have been done better. Although the new premier has stated that decisions about the power plants were made by the Liberal government for political purposes, many Liberals continue to reject responsibility for the scandal their government created.

    I will mention just some of ways that the Liberal government could have handled the Oakville power plant proposal differently so that it did not turn into a costly scandal:

    1. Listened to residents’ concerns about the health risks of a local air shed overtaxed with pollutants – concerns going back almost a decade to when the current mayor opposed a previously planned site near the Oakville-Mississauga border. Then they could have waited until a task force reported on ways to reduce pollution in the area before deciding to go ahead with the plant. They could also have mandated a full environmental assessment for the project.

    2. Picked a safer location much farther away from homes, particularly when you have just ruled that wind turbines should be placed much more distant from homes than was the plan for the Oakville plant.

    3. Appointed someone as head of the Ontario Power Authority who is not the head of a construction company that builds power plants.

    4. Consulted with the Town of Oakville before signing a contract. This could have included getting (as the mayor chastises) a building permit before signing a contract.

    5. Announced the cancellation at a different time rather than in the middle of a local election campaign for the positions of mayor and councilors.

    6. Stood up as a government and answered questions in public. Instead of this the Liberal government shut down democratic debate while the premier and former energy minister packed their bags and ran away.

  12. Mark Dewdney says:

    Who made the decision to put those plants there in the first place, and which government was in charge of making sure that department didn’t do anything stupid?

  13. Richard Petersen says:

    Do we not need an energy source in these areas? Now what are we going to do for power? There must be a reason for wanting power plants in the area.

  14. Rob Feeney says:

    It doesn’t really matter ultimately which political party canceled the deal.
    The deal would have been canceled by any of the three had they been in power.
    I think we’ve established that.
    The simple truth is the deals were canceled because it’s what the public wanted.
    What do we learn from this?
    For the public to get what it wants is going to cost money.
    The money comes from your taxes.
    Any politician or political party who puts reducing taxes ahead of everything else is not going to give the public what they want.
    Unfortunately they will be able to give the public what they think they want.
    I don’t want to pay less taxes necessarily.
    What I want is public services for everyone and value for my tax dollar.

  15. J Down says:

    If Dalton had simply waited another month or so, the obligation/option/contract could have run out , without the huge penalties or payouts? But Dalton wanted it cancelled before the election (to shore up votes in the area), so he made the political decsion to cancel it ‘early’, triggering the extra costs?

    From the Globe and Mail:
    “Ms. Lysyk found, the Liberals did not take advantage of contract provisions that protected the province from having to compensate TransCanada Corp., the energy giant given the job of building it. Instead, Mr. McGuinty’s aides assured TransCanada it would receive the entire value of the contract”

    and
    “Under the contract, the government had no legal obligation to compensate TransCanada for lost profits in the event that the company could not complete the project. Strong opposition in Oakville made it unlikely the work could be done by target dates in the agreement.
    and
    “It may well have been possible for the OPA to wait it out, with no penalty and at no cost,” Ms. Lysyk says in her report. “The auditor’s findings jibe with internal government documents reviewed by The Globe and Mail, which suggest political staff repeatedly sidelined the Ontario Power Authority as it tried to reach a deal with TransCanada

  16. Mars says:

    Sept 24, 2011:

    Just ahead of the provincial election, the Ontario Liberals have announced they will halt construction of a controversial gas-fired power plant being built on the Toronto-Mississauga border if they are re-elected….

    Liberal candidate Charles Sousa announced the decision to rapturous applause from residents at a news conference nearby the site.

    Sousa was joined by fellow Liberal incumbents Donna Cansfield and Laurel Broten, as well as local Liberal candidate Dipika Damerla. All four are running in either Etobicoke or Mississauga.

    *They repeatedly stressed that the Progressive Conservative party has not addressed the power plant issue during the campaign and that if one of the other parties wins, the plant could go forward.*

    *Neither the NDP nor the PC party has pledged to stop the plant.*

    http://www.thestar.com/news/gta/2011/09/24/liberals_vow_to_scrap_mississauga_power_plant.html

    The Liberals merrily pulled the plug for partisan advantage. This is an atrocious way to make policy, especially energy policy. Opposition parties can be forgiven for taking stands based on incomplete knowledge, but the Liberals knew what was in those contracts — and they let staffers carry out Costanza-esque negotiations when history would prove that they could have simply waited it out at potentially zero penalty to the province.

    The latter-day companion scandal is the revelation, courtesy the Information and Privacy Commissioner, that the Liberals disregarded their own recordkeeping legislation after stickhandling it into law in 2006-7, meaning that the two-dozen wiped hard drives are really just the beginning. More than half of the Liberals’ term, huge swathes of Ontario’s history, has potentially been redacted. Pick your favourite black mark. Maybe it’s the in camera scheming around 2010’s G20 Summit, whose iron fist security regulation is still on the books, almost four years later.

    For me, it’s the unknown unknowns that are the most intriguing. Absent a free and full investigation/inquiry, we will be far poorer than a squandered $1.1 billion.

  17. Ben says:

    Those at fault are those that were in charge at the time, who voted on this and signed the documents. Namely, the Liberal party.
    Everything else is irrelevant background noise that reveals little but the authors severe bias.

  18. Joe says:

    Ben… you obviously did not read the full text.

    The people of Oakville stopped the plant. The Explosion of a gas plant in CT stopped the plant.
    The Govt did not order the OPA to site the plant anywhere. It was the OPA’s mistake. As for the costs, the AG is estimating TWO plants for their $1.2B loss.
    The first plant is the one cancelled… and the second is the replacement plant and associated transmission cotss to the GTA.

    Inform yourself. Trust nobody. Especially the media.

    http://www.robertburton.ca/Media/tabid/74/articleType/ArticleView/articleId/330/When-the-people-rise-uph5The-timeline-to-victory-against-the-power-planth5.aspx

  19. Chris Cudmore says:

    I”m with you right up until the last couple of lines. This gas plant issue is McGuinty’s mistake, but not the mistake everyone thinks it is.

    The mistake McGuinty made was piss poor planning. He had a vision of a Coal-free Ontario, and rushed headlong into implementing that dream without thinking.

    I recall a big production (and Explosions!!!!) surrounding the Port Credit (4-Sisters) demolition. Boom (literally)! Gone! McGuinty has just cleaned up Mississauga’s air! Such Hero!

    Now, what if McGuinty had sold the whole idea a bit differently? What if he had announced to Port Credit and Mississauga that he was going to replace the coal generating plant with a natural gas fired plant. When Mississauga figured out where they wanted to put it, construction could start, and the 4 Sisters could go up in smoke. Would there have been any issue then? I think not.

    And that is how McGuinty blew this file.

  20. Joe says:

    To be fair; the PC’s had the same plan in their platform, to eliminate the coal stations by 2014.
    But I agree that the LPC lacked the sales skills to get what they wanted. McGuinty was trying to strong arm the plants in there until that explosion, and then realized he wasn’t going to win the argument.
    It’s still a far cry from ‘corruption’ and ‘seat saving’. Reality is a bit more muddy than all that.

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