It was the single biggest issue dogging Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty when he announced his retirement last October. And now the controversy over two cancelled power plants is again heating up even before his successor, Kathleen Wynne, is sworn into office.
Correspondence released by the Progressive Conservatives on Wednesday reveals that an Energy Ministry official gave instructions to staff at the Ontario Power Authority to exclude information requested by a legislative committee probing the cancelled projects.
"We see clear political interference here," Tory MPP Rob Leone told reporters.
The Tories obtained what appears to be an incriminating internal OPA memo from a whistle-blower. The memo adds fuel to suspicions that not all the documents associated with the cancelled projects have been disclosed.
The government has said it cost taxpayers $230-million to pull the plug on the projects in Oakville and Mississauga. Opposition members say the decision was politically motivated to save seats in the 2011 provincial election and that the tab is in fact much higher.
The memo addressed to OPA chief executive officer Colin Andersen is dated Oct. 3 – 10 days after the government had disclosed a first tranche of documents, but before it released a further 20,000 pages. The memo hints at discord between the Energy Ministry and the government's energy planning agency over the cancelled plants.
"Ministry staff now say that they did not instruct OPA staff to exclude attachments to correspondence where the correspondence does not mention Oakville or Mississauga," the OPA's Kristin Jenkins says in the e-mail.
"As you are aware … I have been clear that this is in fact what Jesse told us to do at the meeting on Aug. 22. … Jesse instructed us to exclude attachments where the correspondence itself was not responsive."
Ms. Jenkins is referring to Jesse Kulendran, a former, long-time political staffer who moved into the civil service and was helping the Energy Ministry with the committee process.
Nauman Khan, a spokesman for Energy Minister Chris Bentley, said his office "did not direct the document search."
An Energy Ministry spokeswoman said no documents were "deliberately" withheld. "The ministry's own document search was conducted in good faith with every intention to comply with the request," Kirby Dier said in a statement.
For its part, the OPA said its staff "conducted themselves in good faith in co-operation with the legislature and its committees."
The government released a second tranche of documents on Oct. 12. Three days later, Mr. McGuinty announced that he was resigning and proroguing the legislature. All business ground to a halt, circumventing the legislative committee probe into the gas plants.
The Tories are now pushing for the committee hearings to resume after Ms. Wynne reopens the legislature on Feb. 19.
"It is the responsibility of the government to come clean," Mr. Leone said.