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Opposition to compel McGuinty, ministers to testify in power-plant probe

Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty, photographed in the Legislature in August.

Fernando Morales/The Globe and Mail

Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty and members of his cabinet will be compelled to testify before a legislative committee probing the governing Liberals' decision to pull the plug on two power plants.

Opposition members used their majority in the provincial legislature Tuesday to pass a motion referring the matter to the Standing Committee on Finance for further investigation. The committee will also determine the fate of Ontario Energy Minister Chris Bentley, who is facing a rare contempt of Parliament censure.

Opposition MPPs have five seats on the nine-member Finance Committee. Sources close to the committee said the Progressive Conservatives and New Democrats plan to use their majority to call Mr. McGuinty and cabinet ministers as witnesses.

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NDP House Leader Gilles Bisson said his party is more interested in how much money the Liberals spent cancelling the projects to save seats west of Toronto in last fall's provincial election than in penalizing Mr. Bentley.

"The issue is they spent $650-million to save some seats," Mr. Bisson told reporters.

The committee hearings will shed more light on confidential contracts the government has signed with the private sector to build natural gas-fired electricity plants in the province. The public got its first glimpse of these secret deals last July, after the government revealed that the Liberals' mid-campaign decision to cancel a power plant in Mississauga, which was hotly opposed by residents, cost taxpayers $190-million.

Last week, just hours before a deadline set by the Speaker, the government disclosed costs associated with cancelling the equally unpopular plant slated for Oakville. The plant, to be built by energy giant TransCanada Corp., will be relocated to Eastern Ontario.

As first reported by The Globe and Mail, the government has promised private-sector energy companies guaranteed revenue regardless of how much electricity they produce. TransCanada will receive annual revenue of $164.2-million for the 900-megawatt plant it plans to build in Lennox and Addington County, and $3.28-billion over the 20-year contract life.

NDP energy critic Peter Tabuns is calling on the provincial auditor to probe these deals.

"As details leak out on this government's secret, private gas-plant deals, it looks more and more like it's throwing good money after bad," Mr. Tabuns said in Question Period on Tuesday.

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The government has said the total costs that cannot be applied to the new site are about $40-million. However, the Tories and NDP insist that the tab is much higher and peg the figure at about $650-million.

The committee has until Nov. 19 to determine whether Mr. Bentley should be held in contempt for refusing to release documents to a legislative committee last May.

Liberal insiders say that many of Mr. Bentley's caucus colleagues feel he has been unfairly singled out by the opposition. Both power-plant projects were cancelled before he was appointed Energy Minister last October.

"This is a difficult day," Mr. Bentley told reporters. "I make no bones about that."

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About the Author

Karen Howlett is a national reporter based in Toronto. She returned to the newsroom in 2013 after covering Ontario politics at The Globe’s Queen’s Park bureau for seven years. Prior to that, she worked in the paper’s Vancouver bureau and in The Report on Business, where she covered a variety of beats, including financial services and securities regulation. More

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