OTTAWA - A judicial inquiry along the lines of the probe into the federal Liberal sponsorship scandal is needed for Ontario's $1.1-billion gas-plant debacle, Progressive Conservative Leader Tim Hudak said Thursday.
Campaigning in Ottawa, Hudak said an inquiry is needed to impress on politicians of all political stripes that they must put the public interest ahead of their own political interests.
"The gas plant scandal was one of the biggest scandals in Canada's history," Hudak said.
"It was an extraordinary betrayal of the trust that taxpayers have that their tax dollars will be respected."
The provincial Liberal government, under former premier Dalton McGuinty, scrapped a gas plant in Oakville in 2010 and one in Mississauga in the dying days of the last provincial election in 2011 in what the Tories say was an effort to save seats.
The cost of cancelling the contracts and relocating the plants is estimated as high as $1.1 billion.
Police are still investigating the destruction of related records in the premier's office that occurred after Kathleen Wynne took over from McGuinty last year.
Hudak used his campaign stop in the nation's capital to hearken back to the Gomery inquiry into the sponsorship scandal called by former Liberal prime minister Paul Martin in 2004.
The Gomery commission found that firms were winning contracts based on donations to the federal Liberals, with little work being done.
The scandal helped lead to the demise of the federal Liberals' hold on power.
Hudak, who noted Gomery held hearings near the hotel where he was making his gas plant announcement, said the Adscam inquiry was effective and worth every penny.
He did not mention that the courts later set aside Justice John Gomery's conclusion that former prime minister Jean Chretien and a top aide shared blame for mismanagement of the program.
The Wynne Liberals pointed out that various Tory politicians opposed a public inquiry into the gas plant cancellations as too expensive, preferring instead to go with a probe by a legislative committee.
However, Hudak accused McGuinty and Wynne of going the "cover-up" route, saying an inquiry into the three-year-old fiasco would get answers for taxpayers if he's elected June 12.
"I do this most of all to send a powerful signal to politicians of any stripe that this abuse of taxpayer dollars will never be tolerated," he said.
"It's far more expensive not to get answers."
Hudak said he expected both McGuinty and Wynne to testify if a judicial inquiry ever gets off the ground.
Also on HuffPost:
Ontario Liberal leader <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/news/kathleen-wynne/" target="_blank">Kathleen Wynne</a> took a number of shots at <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/news/stephen-harper/" target="_blank">Prime Minister Stephen Harper</a> and his federal Conservatives in her campaign. And some federal Tories fired right back. <em>With files from The Canadian Press</em>
'Stand Up' To Harper
Wynne <a href="http://news.nationalpost.com/2014/05/04/kathleen-wynne-tells-harper-to-move-out-of-the-way-after-pm-calls-ontario-pension-plan-a-payroll-tax/" target="_blank">wasted no time</a> criticizing the Harper government in her first speech after announcing a provincial vote had been called for June 12. Wynne said the priorities of her government are increasingly at odds with Ottawa. "We need a premier who is willing to stand up to Stephen Harper," she said. "The federal government pours billions of dollars into the oilsands, but when it comes to the Ring of Fire, Stephen Harper has not acted."
Ontario Pension Plan? Meh.
Just hours after the provincial election was called, Harper suggested Wynne's proposal for an Ontario Retirement Pension Plan won't be a hit at the polls. When asked if Wynne could win the election with the plan, the prime minister said <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/2014/05/02/ontario-pension-plan-stephen-harper_n_5255152.html" target="_blank">increasing taxes isn't the way to go.</a>
Wynne To Harper: 'Move Out Of The Way'
Wynne then called Harper's comments about her pension plan "unusual" and told reporters she's <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/2014/05/03/kathleen-wynne-stephen-harper_n_5258030.html" target="_blank">not in the race to run against the prime minister.</a> "The first choice would have been to have an improvement and enhancement to the Canada Pension Plan, but the federal government is not interested in doing that," she said. "So quite frankly I think that if Prime Minister Harper isn't interested in partnering with us then he should move out of the way."
Say It Ain't So, Joe
Finance Minister Joe Oliver joined the fray, <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/2014/05/03/kathleen-wynne-joe-oliver-ontario-election_n_5258700.html" target="_blank">ripping the budget Wynne tabled</a> a day before calling the election. The spending plan is, essentially, the platform on which Ontario Liberals are running. "This is the route to economic decline, not the route to economic growth or job creation," he told CBC Radio's The House. And Oliver made clear he's also <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/2014/05/03/kathleen-wynne-joe-oliver-ontario-election_n_5258700.html" target="_blank">no fan of Wynne's pension plan,</a> calling it a $3.5 billion tax on "workers and businesses" that will kill jobs in Ontario. "This isn't the time to do it," he said.
And Natural Resources Minister Greg Rickford <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/2014/05/03/kathleen-wynne-joe-oliver-ontario-election_n_5258700.html" target="_blank">told CBC News </a>that Wynne's comments about alleged Tory inaction on the Ring of Fire file were "nonsense."
Wynne didn't care much for Oliver weighing in on her budget. In fact, the Ontario Liberal leader <a href="http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/toronto/ontario-votes-2014/kathleen-wynne-harper-taking-over-the-voice-of-tories-in-ontario-1.2630898" target="_blank">accused Harper</a> of "taking over the Conservative voice in the Ontario election."
Sorry (But Not Really)
Oliver later denied to reporters he was trying to intrude on the Ontario election, but was careful to <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/2014/05/05/joe-oliver-ontario-pension-plan_n_5269500.html" target="_blank">repeat his earlier criticism about Wynne's pension proposal.</a> "It's not the time, in my opinion, to impose this type of tax when the Ontario economy is so fragile," he said.
Who Wants To Talk About Harper's Pension?
Wynne then singled out Harper by saying his pension is about 10 times the maximum payout available under the CPP. "Stephen Harper when he retires is going to have about 10 times that amount in his pension," she said. "So the reality is that if he doesn't believe that the Canada Pension Plan should be enhanced, then he should move out of the way and let Ontario do its work."
And Then She Released This Tweet...
Tony GOES OFF
Treasury Board President <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/news/tony-clement/" target="_blank">Tony Clement </a>then took the fight to Wynne during a <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/2014/05/06/ontario-election-2014-tony-clement-wynne_n_5277480.html" target="_blank">segment on CBC's "Power & Politics."</a> The former Ontario MPP didn't mince words, calling Wynne's pension plan proposal a "tax grab" meant to distract from various scandals. "She doesn't want to talk about the gas plants scandal, she doesn't want to talk about E-health scandal. She wants to divert attention from her government's terrible record on these things as well as terrible economic record," he said. "So, I'm not going to play into her campaign strategy, quite frankly."
Wynne <a href="http://www.thestar.com/news/queenspark/2014/05/08/kathleen_wynne_says_stephen_harper_smirked_and_said_people_should_save_for_their_own_retirement.html" target="_blank">told The Toronto Star</a> that, in a private meeting in December, Harper "smirked' and told her people ought to be saving for their own retirement and not count on the government. “It was their fault and people need to pull themselves up by their bootstraps and they need to just save because there's lots of opportunities,” she recalled in the paper.
Not Quite, Harper Spokesperson Says
Jason MacDonald, Harper's chief spokesperson, suggested to The Star that Wynne <a href="http://www.thestar.com/news/queenspark/2014/05/08/kathleen_wynne_says_stephen_harper_smirked_and_said_people_should_save_for_their_own_retirement.html" target="_blank">wasn't being entirely truthful</a> about her meeting with the prime minister. "Presumably she made the comments she made today to distract from her mismanagement of the Ontario economy and the fact that she can’t run on her party’s record," he said.
Don't Forget About Us
In a speech delivered not far from Parliament Hill, Wynne accused Harper of <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/2014/05/08/ontario-election-2014-wynne-harper-ring-fire_n_5288618.html" target="_blank">neglecting Canada's largest province.</a> "Right now, on a number of important issues, the interests of the people of Ontario are at odds with the policies of Stephen Harper's government," she said. "In a very real way, the federal government is balancing its budget on the backs of Ontarians."
Clement Fires Back.. Again
Clement didn't appreciate Wynne's digs at the prime minister and told reporters he wants Ontario PC Leader Tim Hudak to win the election. "[It's] a campaign technique to deflect attention from the disastrous record of the Ontario Liberal government, economic record as well as gas plants and shredding emails and 40 percent hikes in hydro bills," he <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/2014/05/08/ontario-election-2014-wynne-harper-ring-fire_n_5288618.html" target="_blank">told reporters.</a> "I personally want the election of Tim Hudak as premier of Ontario. I personally do, but we’ll work with anybody who forms the government, of course, in the national interest and the provincial interest."
Wynne then shot back by saying federal Tories are "attacking" because they <a href="http://news.nationalpost.com/2014/05/09/federal-tories-fire-back-at-wynne-clement-attacks-ontario-liberals-disastrous-record-calls-for-partys-defeat/" target="_blank">don't share her government’s values.</a> "We know [Harper] doesn't like it because Tony Clement was sent out to attack today," she told a crowd in Kingston, Ont. "Not a surprise that Tony Clement and Tim Hudak would be on the same page, is it? Not a surprise at all."
Alberta Tory MP Weighs In
Blake Richards, who represents the federal Alberta riding of Wild Rose, shared a story about an Ontario Liberal candidate's <a href="http://www.sunnewsnetwork.ca/archives/sunnews/politics/2014/05/20140512-214903.html" target="_blank">controversial Facebook posts.</a>
After Wynne <a href="http://www.torontosun.com/2014/05/20/clement-says-wynnes-ring-of-fire-letter-shows-election-desperation" target="_blank">penned a letter calling on Harper to invest more money</a> in the Ring of Fire project, Clement again shot back. "We've seen desperation in the campaign of Kathleen Wynne in the last few days and this is just another example of that," he said.
UP NEXT: 5 Ontario Liberal Scandals
An Uphill Climb?
Kathleen Wynne is hoping Ontario voters can look past these five scandals when they cast their ballots on June 12. <em> (Information courtesy of The Canadian Press)</em>
Ontario's publicly funded air ambulance service has been under fire for almost two years over sky-high salaries, financial irregularities and corruption allegations. A legislative committee has been probing the service's complex structures and pay scales in detail, and opposition parties have been alleging wrongdoing with nearly every revelation. The auditor general has criticized the governing Liberals for failing to oversee Ornge, despite giving it $730 million over five years and allowing it to borrow another $300 million. The Liberals insist Ornge went rogue with a web of for-profit companies and questionable business deals, as well as exorbitant salaries and lavish expenses.
Cancelled Gas Plants
Scandal has swirled around the government's decision to cancel the construction of two Toronto-area gas plants ahead of the 2011 election, in which the government then led by Dalton McGuinty was reduced to minority status. The cancellation costs have now been pegged at $1.1 billion, but opposition parties have accused the Liberals of actively trying to cover up that figure. Ontario's privacy commissioner has concluded that staff working for McGuinty and a former energy minister broke the law by deleting emails pertaining to the project. Ontario Provincial Police are also investigating the document deletions, seizing government computers at both Queen's Park and beyond.
The provincial agency was given a $1-billion budget to develop electronic health records, but wound up building themselves a bad reputation. A lot of the eHealth money went for untendered contracts given to highly paid consultants who then billed taxpayers for additional expenses in a scandal that cost former health minister David Caplan his job. In 2009, the auditor general said the agency had very little progress to show for its efforts, and opposition parties have alleged further financial mismanagement since then.
The government has taken heat for not immediately acting when it learned a $1.4-billion infrastructure project didn't live up to safety standards. The Liberals were told that questionable materials were being used on the support beams on Windsor's Herb Gray Parkway in December 2012, but didn't halt the project until July. More than 500 support beams are being replaced by the project overseer at no cost to the tax payers, but the NDP has accused the Wynne government of trying to cover up the affair and only backing down when threatened with media exposure.
Premier Kathleen Wynne has hailed the 2015 games as a cause for celebration, but opposition parties call it just another scandal. The $1.4-billion budget for the games does not include some key expenses, like the $700 million athletes' village. The government has also come under fire for $7 million worth of bonuses paid out to 64 executives.
UP NEXT: The Many Faces Of Kathleen Wynne
Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynn smiles as she arrives at the Toronto Blue Jays game against the New York Yankees during home opener AL baseball action in Toronto on Friday, April 4, 2014. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Peter Power
Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne, left, and Glen Murray, Minister of Infrastructure, ride the subway while en route to Wynne's speech at the Toronto Region Board of Trade in Toronto Monday, April 14, 2014. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darren Calabrese
Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne attends question period at Queen's Park in Toronto on Tuesday, April 1, 2014. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chris Young
Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne is shown outside her office at Queen's Park in Toronto on Thursday, March 27, 2014. Wynne has distanced herself from her predecessor, former premier Dalton McGuinty, following police allegations one of his staffers may have committed breach of trust. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Frank Gunn
Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne speaks to supporters and her caucus during the party's annual general meeting in Toronto on Saturday, March 22, 2014. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette