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Wynne vows costly cancellation of power plants won't 'happen again'

Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne speaks to the media following a speech at the Toronto Region Board of Trade in Toronto, September 30, 2013.

Kevin Van Paassen/The Globe and Mail

Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne is vowing to ensure the costly cancellation of power plants "doesn't happen again" a day before the province is set to receive a report on the final price tag for scrapping two facilities.

The Liberal government pulled the plug on the unpopular plants, in the Toronto suburbs of Oakville and Mississauga, ahead of the 2011 election, in what was widely seen as a play to hold on to seats in the area. The move cost at least $585-million.

"The estimates of the cost have varied and do vary, but all of them are unacceptably large, from my perspective, when money is tight for families and for services that we know are needed," Ms. Wynne said Monday. "We have the responsibility to move forward to make sure that this doesn't happen again. That is what I'm focused on. That is my commitment."

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On Tuesday afternoon, Auditor-General Bonnie Lysyk is scheduled to deliver her final report on the cost of cancelling the Oakville plant. A previous auditor's report put the price tag for the Mississauga cancellation higher than both the Liberals and the Ontario Power Authority had, leading to expectations the figure for cancelling Oakville will also rise.

Ms. Wynne has apologized for the fact that the government tried to build the plants in Mississauga and Oakville over local objections. She defended cancelling the projects, contending it was the correct response to community opposition, and vowed that a new process would be put in place to make sure residents are consulted in future before power plants are built.

"There were things that happened in terms of the relocation of the gas plants that shouldn't have happened. I've apologized for that. I've said that there were mistakes made. We didn't do enough initially in terms of listening to the community," she said. "I really feel that my responsibility today, and has been since I came into this office, is to make sure that this doesn't happen again. To make sure that…where we need better processes for working with community, [we'll have] transparency in the decision making that we have that in place."

The opposition parties were against the Mississauga and Oakville plants – the Progressive Conservatives, like the Liberals, promised to cancel the Mississauga facility during the 2011 election – but maintain that they would never have put the plants there in the first place.

The Liberals' handling of the file is enough to warrant a trip to the polls, Tory Energy Critic Lisa MacLeod said.

"The government should have called an election over this long ago," she said. "This government has lost credibility, it has no legitimacy."

New Democrat Leader Andrea Horwath, meanwhile, accused the government of making costly decisions for purely partisan purposes.

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"The message is going to be, once again, tomorrow, that this is a government that was prepared then, and I see it still today, continues to be prepared to do anything they can to save their own political bacon," she said.

The fallout over the plant cancellations has led to a lengthy battle between government and opposition over the past two years. In 2012, after then-energy minister Chris Bentley held back some documents related to the cancellations, the Tories moved to have him found in contempt of parliament. Amid the acrimony, both Mr. Bentley and former premier Dalton McGuinty resigned.

Since taking over earlier this year, Ms. Wynne has acceded to opposition requests, allowing tens of thousands of pages of documents to be released. She also ordered the audit on the Oakville plant.

A legislative committee is still investigating the contempt matter, holding twice-weekly public hearings that have turned up new details on the cancellations, sometimes to the Liberals' embarrassment.

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About the Author
Washington correspondent

Adrian Morrow covers U.S. politics from Washington, D.C. Previously he was The Globe's Ontario politics reporter. He's covered news, crime and sports for The Globe since 2010. He won the National Newspaper Award for politics reporting in 2016. More

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