Premier Dalton McGuinty says his government will comply with a ruling calling for the release of documents relating to his decision to cancel two power plant projects, but it's just a question of when.
The documents cannot be released until commercial negotiations aimed at reaching a settlement with one of the builders are complete, Mr. McGuinty said on Friday. Releasing the documents before then could compromise the negotiations and jeopardize taxpayers' interests by augmenting their costs, he said.
"For me, the issue is not whether we release this information," he told reporters. "It's when we release it."
Speaker Dave Levac ruled Thursday that there is evidence Energy Minister Chris Bentley breached his privileges by refusing to release the documents to a legislative committee. Mr. Bentley is facing a rare contempt of Parliament censure if he does not reveal all costs of the Liberals' mid-campaign decision last September to halt construction of a gas-fired electricity plant in Mississauga and the cancellation of another plant in Oakville a year earlier.
The government released some documents last July, revealing that pulling the plug on the Mississauga project, which was hotly opposed by residents, cost taxpayers $190-million. But it has not disclosed costs associated with canceling the equally unpopular power plant that was slated for Oakville.
The government is still in settlement talks with Calgary-based energy giant TransCanada Corp., which had the Oakville contract.
Mr. McGuinty wrote letters to both opposition parties on Friday, accusing them of being irresponsible for demanding that the documents be released immediately.
"I would like to express my disappointment over the insistence of Ontario's opposition parties to play politics with this sensitive issue," Mr. McGuinty says in the letters to Progressive Conservative Leader Tim Hudak and New Democratic Party Leader Andrea Horwath.
Mr. McGuinty is calling on the opposition leaders to instruct their house leaders to respect the need for confidentiality until a settlement on the Oakville project is reached.
"There has been a breach of privilege, which I accept and respect," he told reporters. "But there are two public interests here that we've got to protect."
Mr. McGuinty said his understanding of the Speaker's ruling is that the documents do not have to be released by Sept. 24. Rather, he said, that is the deadline for all three house leaders to reach an accord on when the documents will be released.
The Speaker was asked to rule on the matter after Mr. Bentley refused to comply with a legislative committee's request last May for all government documents relating to the projects. The Speaker said the committee was "unquestionably" entitled to request the documents and the minister had an obligation to comply.
"I am therefore satisfied that a prima facie case of privilege has been established," the ruling says.
Tory House Leader Jim Wilson said Friday that the Liberals are "desperate" to hide the full cost associated with canceling the projects and insisted that the documents be released immediately.
"We believe the solution is simple – hit print and table the documents," Mr. Wilson said. "The Liberals obstructed the opposition at every turn" and the Sept. 24 time line just gives them "more squirming room to bury the facts."