TORONTO - Ontario's opposition parties expressed frustration and doubt Thursday at testimony from Dalton McGuinty's former chief of staff about the cancelled gas plant in Oakville, prompting the government to accuse the Tories of attacking their own witness.
As CEO of Infrastructure Ontario, and later the then-premier's chief of staff, David Livingston was directly involved in talks with TransCanada Corp. (TSX:TRP) about compensation for cancelling the contract for the Oakville project.
Livingston told the justice committee he didn't know TransCanada had rejected an offer of almost $1 billion, and another of $721 million, when he joined the negotiations to look for possible solutions for the government.
"I've seen that and I've heard that, but that's not obvious to me that that's what happened," he told the committee.
"Well it's obvious to us. We have the documents," fired back Progressive Conservative energy critic Vic Fedeli.
Some of tens of thousands of gas plant documents released by the Liberals prove there were offers to TransCanada in the hundreds of millions of dollars, added Fedeli.
"The government was a signatory to this agreement and you’re saying as the chief of staff you had no involvement, no knowledge whatsoever of this $991 million deal," he asked Livingston.
"Quite frankly I’m having a hard time with that, I’ve got to be honest. I’m baffled at this. We’ve got the man sitting here in front of us who did the deal."
The New Democrats were equally frustrated when Livingston testified he wasn't briefed that there would be extra costs for cancelling the Oakville plant above the $40 million the government claims.
"Nobody told me," said Livingston.
"There was not a discussion that there was more money involved than the $40 million."
The opposition parties warn the cancellation of the Oakville gas plant could cost Ontario taxpayers over $1 billion.
"So the minister of energy and the deputy minister never told you or anyone else in the premier’s office that in fact we’re talking about a lot more than $40 million here," asked NDP energy critic Peter Tabuns.
"Like my colleague, I find that quite extraordinary."
Outside the committee, the opposition parties continued their attack on Livingston.
"I don’t find it credible that he knew nothing about this case before he took it on," said Tabuns.
"He’s sent in as the fixer, has no budget ceiling, and also has absolutely no experience in the energy sector and he designs five options where to site energy plants," said Fedeli.
"That is absolutely incredible and, quite frankly, not very credible."
Liberal committee chair Bob Delaney warned the opposition parties they were on shaking ground with their "shameful" attacks on Livingston outside the hearing room.
"I think this has been completely reprehensible, a witness called by the Progressive Conservatives turned into an attack on his character," said Delaney.
"Both the PC and NDP have accused a man of not telling the truth under oath, and they produced absolutely nothing to substantiate it."
The Liberals say the Tories should be calling the former deputy minister of energy to testify about the cancelled project because it had the lead role on the gas plants, not Livingston.
The committee is holding public hearings into the cancelling of the Oakville gas plant in 2010 and another in Mississauga that was halted in mid-construction by the Liberals during the 2011 election campaign.
Auditor General Jim McCarter is also investigating the costs of scrapping the two energy projects, and is expected to release his report on the Mississauga gas plant in about three weeks.