09/25/2012 04:00 EDT | Updated 11/24/2012 05:12 EST

Chris Bentley, Ontario Energy Minister, Faces Contempt Of Parliament Motion


OAKVILLE, Ont. - The Liberal government made a mistake when they planned to build new power plants in Oakville and Mississauga, Premier Dalton McGuinty admitted Tuesday as he accused the opposition parties of sidetracking the legislature with a debate on contempt.

The Liberals planned to buid 17 new gas-fired plants as part of the government's $96-billion long-term energy plan, but got two of them wrong, McGuinty said after meeting with residents who successfully fought the Oakville project.

"We didn’t get it right in the first instance," he said.

"We listened, we learned, we understood that we had overstepped ourselves in trying to put a plant that big, that was 500 or 600 metres away from a school and homes in the vicinity, so we made a decision to relocate."

The government complied with a Speaker's ruling by releasing 36,000 pages of documents Monday on the two gas-fired generating stations the Liberals cancelled, so there was no need for the "obstructionist" contempt motion, added McGuinty.

"I think they’ve sidetracked the legislature, and I think we have more pressing public business to do," he said.

"I’m hoping that the opposition will have their fun, come to their senses, and recognize that we’ve got to move beyond this."

However, the Progressive Conservatives and New Democrats said they were convinced the government did not release all the documents, pointing to blank pages and others that had had everything blanked out.

"We have at least 1,000 documents that have nothing in them but a title," said PC energy critic Vic Fedeli.

"They have not complied whatsoever with the Speaker’s ruling."

The real cost of scrapping the two gas-fired plants will far exceed the $230 million the Liberals claim, and the Oakville project alone could be more than 10 times higher than the $40 million stated by the government, added Fedeli.

There is no time limit for the debate on the contempt motion, which brings all other legislative business to a halt, including the daily question periods.

"We certainly want to pursue this investigation further because we believe a case for contempt is probably stronger today after those documents have been tabled than it was before we had those documents," said Conservative Rob Leone as he moved a motion demanding the government release even more documents.

The New Democrats said they too felt the Liberals did not release all the documents that were originally requested by a legislative committee back in May.

"They don’t think that they have any responsibility to provide documents that are requested by the members of this legislature, and I think that’s the worst part of this entire story," NDP Leader Andrea Horwath told the legislature.

"It’s not even the dollars, it’s the lows that this government will sink to for its own political benefit."

Government house leader John Milloy reacted angrily to the accusations that the government did not release all the documents, saying members are supposed to be taken at their word.

"We have provided the documents and the minister has signed an attestation to that affect. There was absolutely nothing redacted," Milloy told reporters.

"They’re turning it into a kangaroo court."

The Tories and NDP say the documents show cancelling the two power plants was part of an expensive and cynical Liberal seat-saver program.

"We’re supposed to be addressing the problems, the needs, the concerns of the people of Ontario, not the political fortunes of the five or six (Liberal) MPPs that were able to get their seats saved by that massive investment of public dollars," said Horwath. "It’s a shame."

The Tories say it could cost another $200 million to build new transmission lines needed in the Oakville and Mississauga areas because the power plants were cancelled, but the government says it's premature to talk about the need for new lines.

Leone's motion also calls on the government to reconstitute the Finance Committee so it can study all the documents on the gas plants and consider the matter of contempt against Energy Minister Chris Bentley.

There are no legislative committees for the fall session of the legislature because the three parties cannot agree on their make up and who should chair them.

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