Ontario's Progressive Conservatives are promising to hold a judicial inquiry into the costly cancellation of gas plants if the party wins the next election, but are not joining the New Democrats in pushing for an immediate probe.
"[An inquiry would] identify what went wrong, who is accountable, can taxpayer dollars be recouped and, finally, to ensure that no government is able to do this again," MPP Vic Fedeli said Monday.
The move is a change of tack for the Tories, who previously had pushed for the matter to be investigated by legislative committee.
The third-party New Democrats have spent the last month demanding the Liberal government immediately call a public inquiry into the plant cancellations. But a PC source said the Tories fear that, were the Liberals to call an inquiry, the government could craft the terms of reference to exclude anything they do not want made public.
Both a public inquiry and a judicial inquiry follow similar procedures, which consist of hearings, reviewing documents and the use of investigators. They can uncover facts and make policy recommendations, but do not have the power to lay criminal sanctions. A public inquiry can theoretically be headed by anyone, whereas a judicial inquiry is led by a legal official, typically a retired judge.
The Liberals mothballed two gas plants, one in Mississauga and another in Oakville, before the 2011 election in what was widely seen as a bid to save the party seats. Last year, the opposition compelled the government to release tens of thousands of pages of documents on the file. Many of the documents were redacted, however, and the opposition parties argue they were deliberately covered up.
A legislative committee is set to investigate the documents and the auditor-general is scheduled to report in April on the cost of cancelling the plants – believed to be at least $230-million – but both the Tories and NDP maintain an inquiry is the only way to uncover all the documents and learn the true cost.
In Question Period, the Liberals responded to opposition attacks by repeatedly pointing out that the Tories had also pledged to cancel the Mississauga plant ahead of the 2011 election.
"It is our absolute objective to make sure that every piece of information is available and I will continue to work on that," Premier Kathleen Wynne said.