The party is under investigation already by the Ontario Provincial Police over allegations that it destroyed files related to the cancellation of two gas plant projects during the 2011 provincial election. Two former aides to former premier Dalton McGuinty have been formally charged. Now the Ottawa Citizen is reporting that the OPP is launching a second investigation — into the alleged destruction of documents related to the cancellation of a wind farm project.
Trilllium Power Wind Corporation is suing the Ontario government for $500 million over its decision to cancel a proposed wind farm development on Lake Ontario, also around the time of the 2011 election. Company president John Kourtoff alleges that, during the discovery phase, emails and documents that should have existed were curiously absent, despite the fact that Trillium had received messages about the project from the premier’s office.
“Any communications from, to, or within the Ontario Premier’s office and cabinet office didn’t exist any more,” Kourtoff told the Globe and Mail. Even more damning, a document the government did disclose said the province would “purge e-mails, records, documents” related to offshore wind projects, according to Trillium’s court filings.
The government’s legal response was written in the true Orwellian style: “The use of the term ‘purging’ … refers to standard record keeping practices respecting transitory items and does not in any respect refer to the intentional destruction of documents that would in any way support the plaintiff’s unfounded allegations of misfeasance in public office.”
Actually, ‘purging’ is a pretty good word to describe the average Ontario taxpayer’s response to hearing about another boondoggle in the energy file.
Five hundred million dollars to cancel wind farms, a billion dollars shelled out to cancel the gas plants, a billion dollars spent to install smart meters, hydro rates that have doubled over the past decade, solar farm subsidies that were offered and then withdrawn, the partial sale of the Hydro One Utility to pad the province’s bottom line … the list of failures gets longer every week.
The NDP is now demanding a public inquiry into the government’s handling of energy contracts — something which is about as likely to happen as Premier Kathleen Wynne balancing the books before 2018.
Mismanagement is one thing. Criminal activity is quite another. If it’s true that the government deliberately destroyed documents relating to their political decisions, heads should roll — and not just those of low-level aides, either. McGuinty’s role — what he knew, what he didn’t know — needs further scrutiny. And while the events happened under the former premier’s watch, Wynne was a senior cabinet minister at the time and co-chair of the Liberal campaign.
To offer a recent comparison, consider the fallout of the Duffy scandal. Stephen Harper didn’t manage to evade his responsibility in that case. Even without a smoking gun, the image of the PM tossing Chief of Staff Nigel Wright under the bus during question period, then reversing over the corpse — over and over — destroyed Harper’s credibility in the eyes of many voters. Wynne should take note.
The premier’s popularity is already at an all-time low. Only 20 per cent of Ontarians approve of her performance as premier, while 67 per cent disapprove. The Liberals trail the Progressive Conservatives 30 to 40 per cent in the latest opinion poll; if an election were held today, the PCs would win a majority with 57 out of 107 seats, versus 26 for the Liberals and 24 for the NDP.
How did it all come to this? Just two years ago, against all odds, Wynne won a majority government and was seen as the saviour of her party. The Liberals had been in power since 2003; the stench of the gas plant scandal, on top of a scandal in E-Health and the ORNGE ambulance debacle, made it seem as though they had no hope of clinging to power. But thanks to missteps by the PC opposition — chiefly, leader Tim Hudak’s pledge to pink-slip 100,000 public servants — the Liberals won the day.
Since her election, however, Wynne has made her own set of unforced errors, most notably where education and children are involved. First she bought labour peace with the province’s teachers’ unions by secretly paying $2.5 million to cover their costs for negotiating with the province. Then she brought in controversial changes to the province’s sex-ed curriculum that saw parents pull their kids out of school in protest. Most recently, she cut off funding for crucial therapy for thousands of autistic children based solely on attaining the age of five years, despite evidence that older children would continue to benefit.
So will this latest OPP investigation prove to be Wynne’s Waterloo? Voters go to the polls in two years, an eternity in politics. But it’s also a long time to let the government’s legal problems percolate — and who knows what else will bubble up to the surface?
Author: Tasha Kheiriddin