TORONTO, Cananda - The man at the centre of the Ontario government scandal over cancelled gas plants in Oakville and Mississauga announced Friday he is quitting provincial politics.
Energy Minister Chris Bentley, who also served as Ontario's attorney general, said he would resign his London West seat Feb. 14, the same day Finance Minister Dwight Duncan will quit his seat in Windsor-Tecumseh.
Bentley was the target of opposition furor over the Liberal government's decisions to cancel the two gas-fired generating stations, even though he wasn't named energy minister until after the Oct. 2011 election.
The opposition says the cancellations, which cost taxpayers at least $230 million, were motivated purely by a desire to save Liberal seats in the suburbs west of Toronto.
Bentley did not make any direct reference to the gas plant scandal in his resignation letter to constituents Friday, but admitted the Liberals had made mistakes.
"Our government got the main initiatives right over the past nine years in the face of some very challenging times, but not everything," wrote Bentley.
"I have always done what I believed to be right for the people I serve."
The Progressive Conservatives said it was unfortunate for Bentley that he became the Liberal face of the gas plants controversy.
"There's no question he's the fall guy," said PC energy critic Vic Fedeli.
"He was thrown under the bus, plain and simple, but he made a choice not to turn over the (gas plant) documents, and that turned the lens on him."
The New Democrats ignored the gas plants controversy Friday and spoke of Bentley's commitment to public service.
"I’d like to commend Chris Bentley for his many years of dedicated service as a Member of Provincial Parliament and as a minister of the Crown," said NDP Leader Andrea Horwath.
"Public life is never easy."
The intense personal attacks against Bentley in the legislature, and a rare contempt of Parliament motion against him, were reasons cited by Dalton McGuinty for proroguing the legislature when the premier announced his resignation last October.
Bentley was widely seen as the fall guy for the gas plants scandal, taking the blame for decisions made under previous energy minister Brad Duguid, although McGuinty has said he was the one who was responsible for the decisions.
The controversy also killed what many expected would be a run for the Liberal leadership by Bentley, a man many party insiders had considered a strong candidate to replace McGuinty.
It was Bentley who tried to deny a request from a legislative committee for all the relevant documents on the gas plants, which led to the contempt of Parliament motion. It was killed when the legislature was shut down.
Bentley took the blame when the Liberals had to admit they'd found 20,000 more documents on the gas plants, weeks after they released an initial batch of 36,000 pages, and insisted that was all there were to be found.
The Progressive Conservatives and New Democrats still aren't convinced all the documents have been released, and are demanding committee hearings resume into the gas plants as soon as the legislature resumes sitting.
In his letter to constituents, Bentley said quitting provincial politics "was a hard decision," but he wanted to spend more time with his family.
"It is time to start writing the next chapter in my life, one with more room for my wife Wendy, and my daughters Julia and Jocelyn," he wrote.
"The past nine years have been everything I thought they could be, and more."
Premier-designate Kathleen Wynne, who will be sworn in Monday along with her new cabinet, now faces the prospect of calling two byelections within six months to replace Bentley and Duncan.
The veteran cabinet ministers had signalled previously that they did not intend to run for office again.
Duncan announced Thursday that he would leave provincial politics Feb. 14, saying he wanted to clear the way for Wynne to put new faces on the Liberal front benches.
Northern Development and Mines Minister Rick Bartolucci announced Thursday that he will not run in the next general election, but said he would keep his Sudbury seat until then.
The legislature is set to resume Feb. 19 with a throne speech outlining the government's plans for the spring session.
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