The smell from the gas plant mess makes it difficult to know if there is anything sweet in the budget.

By Ray Rivers

BURLINGTON, ON  May 2, 2013.  Give the people what they want.  Dalton McGuinty transformed Ontario’s health care system from mediocre to one of the best in the country.  He was the education Premier who brought peace and productivity to the class room.  He banned cosmetic pesticides, driving with a hand-held cell phone and smoking while children are in your car.  He brought in the HOV lanes, the Greenbelt, and helped keep the auto industry alive during the 2008 recession.  But one of his biggest achievements was the Green Energy Act.

 Generating energy with coal is dirty, speeds up climate change and impairs our health.  So the Premier set up the Ontario Power Authority to make a plan – to phase-out coal but make sure the lights didn’t go out.  Solar and wind are the path to the future but they only work when the sun shines and the wind blows – so you need a backup and that is natural gas.  And gas, the utilities have been saying for years, is clean. 

One of two gas plant the provincial government chose not to complete – cost to quit – close to half a billion dollars

But don’t tell that to the voters in Oakville and Mississauga.  When they heard about the plans for new gas plants, they weren’t going to let Dalton put one in their back yard.  So on the eve of the last election the Liberal government, hoping to get its third majority, killed the partially constructed gas plants in those communities. 

 It turns out the cost of that decision is now known to be over a half billion dollars – compensation for the private entities building the plants – and new power plants will still have to be built somewhere. 

 The provincial budget came down this week, but it will have to compete for newspaper space with the gas plant fiasco.  The pundits expect the NDP will support this budget and continue to support the Liberals for at least a while – till they are ready to pull the plug.  

 It is said that voters have short memories, but will the teachers support the government which declared war on them?  Will the ORNGE, E-health and the Caledonia crises fade in the voters‘ minds?   And on the budget, will the public register its concern that Ontario has been in deficit for the last decade and its debt doubled over that time?   And, yes, don’t forget the gas plants.

Despite all the good that Premier McGuinty did for Ontario, his legacy will likely be tarnished by this one avoidable blunder.  Who would have advised him to pander to a handful of vocal constituents and to reverse himself on a sound energy plan?  That was an expensive lesson for all of us, and Dalton paid a huge price, falling on his sword and giving up his leadership.  This is also Political Science 101: Be careful with the advice you get from the kids surrounding you in the heat of an election campaign  The honey they are pouring into your ears may well turn out to be hemlock.  

 Next week I will be exploring the new Ontario budget.  If the NDP does indeed support the budget on first reading, the question is whether they will see it through committee and onto final reading.  Andrea must be asking herself why she would want to climb into bed with a Liberal government so shaken by something as destructive as the gas plant fiasco?  There are interesting times ahead.

 Ray Rivers will write weekly on both federal and provincial politics, applying his more than 25 years as a federal bureaucrat after which he decided to write and has become a  political animator. Rivers was a candidate in Burlington where he ran against Cam Jackson.


Return to the Front page
Print Friendly, PDF & Email

1 comment to The smell from the gas plant mess makes it difficult to know if there is anything sweet in the budget.

  • Navigator

    Good column, but I wouldn’t have said the gas plant fiasco is McGuinty’s one blunder. It was one more blunder over the line, a blunder too far, a blunder that broke the blunderbuss’s back, a blunder that…well, you get the idea.

    I personally feel that the Caledonia mess and the destruction of the reputation of the OPP is the bigger legacy of this ex-Premier. That is one blunder that will have repercussions long into the future. The Ornge and e-Health scandals were just plain old government mismangement that could easily be fixed once exposed. The same could be said for running up huge deficits, although that is not so easily fixed.

    However, the distinguishing feature of the gas plants is there should have been criminal liability for this decision. McGuinty robbed Ontario taxpayers of nearly ten times the money that Bernie Madoff bilked from his clients and Bernie is in jail. If the McGuinty had simply taken $500 million dollars out of the government coffers and handed it to those two Liberal politicians to use in their election campaigns is there any doubt as to the immoral and illegal status of such an act? McGuinty is in the same class as the Wall Street robber money barons who caused huge financial pain but still sit in their offices instead of in jail cells.

    As Shakespeare once put it: “The evil men do lives after them, the good is oft interred with their bones.” A fitting epitaph for McGuinty.