LEGISLATIVE ASSEMBLY OF ONTARIO
Thursday 27 September 2012
MEMBERS’ PRIVILEGES – GAS PLANTS CONTEMPT MOTION
Resuming the debate adjourned on September 26, 2012, on the amendment to the amendment to the motion by Mr. Leone arising from the Speaker’s ruling of September 13, 2012……
Mrs. Julia Munro: Let me begin by asking all of you to think back to September 2011, if, like me, you were engaged in the ritual of elections. In my case, I remember this particular date in September 2011 because a call came to me that I needed to be at someone’s house in the Holland Marsh, part of my riding. That was because at another point—that is, in Mississauga—the McGuinty Liberals announced that they would not be proceeding with the Mississauga gas plant. The government has admitted that this decision was done in reaction to overwhelming community opposition prior to the last election campaign. There’s a quote: “This was a campaign undertaking at a time when I think we were still behind in the polls, so it required a government decision, which occurred after the election.” This is the quote of the finance minister in estimates on July 19, 2012.
I remember that morning very well because the press was there, the mayor was there, other community leaders—but most importantly, the people who lived right in the immediate neighbourhood. We were all there because the government had decided that this was a good location for a peaker plant: in northern York region.
I’ll come back to that in a moment, but I want to set the stage because of the fact that, very clearly, we have an admission that this was a political decision. This had nothing to do with whether it was necessary.
I want to jump ahead to September 13, 2012. This is when Speaker Levac rules that there is a prima facie breach of privilege and says that Bentley is obligated to table documents and Parliament has an absolute right to call for people, papers—that would be papers that have stuff printed on them—and things, per the standing orders and ancient rights.
As a result of the Speaker’s ruling, it became very, very clear that there were certain ground rules, just two of them. The one quote, “The right to order production of documents is fundamental to and necessary for the proper functioning of the assembly”—and with all due respect to the previous speaker, I would suggest to him that blank pages do not offer that opportunity. The Speaker goes on further: “The House has never set a limit on its power to order the production of papers and records.” Certainly, we’ve heard comments to the contrary by those across the aisle.
The other thing that I think is important to set the stage is also the question of, what does it mean to have a contempt ruling against you? The Oxford Dictionary describes it as “a feeling that a person or thing is beneath consideration or worthless, or deserving scorn or extreme reproach.”
I think it’s important to keep that in mind because, besides the question of the contempt of the minister in the case that the Speaker has ruled on, I’m going to suggest that there’s a greater contempt. There’s a greater contempt that’s greater and much more than that of a single minister. It is the contempt for good and honest government and for the people of Ontario.
I look back at some of these demonstrations of what I consider to be the greater contempt. We look at a billion dollars wasted on eHealth without any kind of transparency. We look at the months that we have tried to bring to scrutiny the whole debacle of Ornge, and then the Premier stands in front of us and urges us to hasten passage of Bill 50. Of course, he didn’t introduce it, necessarily, at the point at which he was asking us to debate it. But he’s described that, particularly Ornge, as something that shouldn’t be repeated, almost assuming a kind of mea culpa, that “I’ve got a bill now that will cover off everything that went wrong.” Of course it leaves out the fact that Ontario had a very successful air ambulance service for decades prior to the Ornge scandal. Most recently, he explained his position of this sort of mea culpa arrangement when he discussed, only a day or two ago, the success of the gas plants, and, well, it was only two gas plants that were a problem out of 17. I think many of us would say that this demonstrates a greater contempt.
When you start looking at some of the pieces of legislation and some of the decisions that have been made, I think it becomes clearer, when you look at no clear, coherent or scientifically based system of planning for public policy in the province of Ontario. I’m reminded of the Green Energy Act, with no local input. I look at the decision to put a gas plant in Bath, which is just this side of Kingston, and that is going to require a grid improvement to be able to get to GTA west—a $200-million improvement. And there’s no transparency in our system. We asked for months to know the details of Samsung. Actually, I think that’s when we found out what redacting means.
But the question, then, that that really begs when we’re talking about the greater contempt is, why didn’t this government establish clear policy for our energy needs for the whole province? How difficult is it to find out what global positioning means? That’s a line hidden on the electricity bill. Why didn’t it simply follow the environmental assessment process to decide whether energy plants adversely affected human health and the environment? If the government knew how to plan for the future, it wouldn’t have the problems it has had building new plants. It wouldn’t have panicked in the election and cancelled the Mississauga plant. So I think it’s really important to understand that there is a bit more to the contempt, as we begin to look at some of the actions taken by this government.
I mentioned already the Green Energy Act, which was to eliminate the possibility of a NIMBY influence. I think there’s a certain irony now when you look at what’s happened in Mississauga and Oakville, a very expensive NIMBY influence, I think. But part of the revolutionizing of energy production was the dismantling and decommissioning of the coal-fired furnaces.
In 2001, Elizabeth Witmer, the then Minister of Energy, announced the closure of the Lakeview generating station. In the election of 2003, both the Liberals and the Conservatives promised to close down the rest of the electricity-generating coal-fired furnaces. The difference was that the Liberals promised the completion by 2007; the PCs by 2015. I remember asking the minister, why the difference in timing? Simply put, one was the assessment of experts; the other, wishful thinking. Today we have reduced coal-fired energy in the province, but no party can claim to have a monopoly on the decision to close down those furnaces, despite the rhetoric of the government.
As part of the shift, gas plants were introduced—northern York region was a site. I want to take members back to the time when the member for Oakville was busy trying to get the plant stopped in Oakville. I had the opportunity to speak to his bill, and I made a few comments at that point that my constituents were undergoing, obviously, the same kind of concerns with the energy plants: “The government first tried to meet this need by building new power lines” and then they changed and decided to go to a peaker plant.
“I note that the member for Oakville wants to ban peaker plants from coming any closer than 1.5 kilometres to a school or a residential area.
“Let me inform this House that the peaker plant planned for my riding is a lot closer than 1.5 kilometres from the Holland Marsh District Christian School.” The plant, as proposed at that time, beside the Holland Marsh itself—the source of most of our summer vegetables in Ontario, and on the very land that this government “thought vital to be included in the greenbelt.
“A few short years ago,” they had “deemed this land to be protected from intrusion. Now the government,” at this time, was “prepared to sacrifice the principles of its own greenbelt law.”
So the question, then, of the greater contempt grows, as you can tell.
The next opportunity was a couple of years ago, when the Environmental Commissioner made some comments about the government’s decision. He “revealed the sham that is this government’s environmental protection system. He revealed that local citizens had made multiple requests to bump up the peaker plant in my riding to a full environmental assessment. He said that the requesters made compelling arguments.
“People are worried about possible impacts of the proposed natural-gas-fired generator on local farmland and water, and whether the plant conforms to local and provincial planning policies. The province denied their request, and the commissioner said that if a request was not granted in this case, it is difficult to imagine a situation when such a request would be approved. In fact, the commissioner could not find any bump-up requests that this government has granted.”
So it doesn’t use its own laws; it wants to exempt the whole project from the Planning Act; and as I say, it is a demonstration of these issues.
I note these examples from my own riding to illustrate a point. We would not be here debating this contempt motion if it wasn’t for the government’s confused, ramshackle and frankly incompetent approach to our energy system. The power plants in Oakville and Mississauga were proposed and are necessary because we need the power; because the Liberals plan on closing all of Ontario’s coal plants; because the Liberals aren’t making any lasting decisions on our nuclear plants. So they went ahead with these power plants but got cold feet during the election.
This government has shown contempt for many in our community. One only has to look, more recently, at its contempt for the horse racing industry, its 60,000 jobs, its $2-billion contribution to the Ontario economy. The horse racing industry had a contractual arrangement that this government cast aside. Hard-working, successful people in the industry woke up one morning to find their lives, their incomes and their futures destroyed by the stroke of a pen. Some $50 million was tossed their way to help them go bankrupt and unemployed and euthanize their horses. This is surely contempt for law-abiding citizens of Ontario.
When we look at the problems of the deal that has been made, when we look at $450 million to be used for the transfer of these plants, there are more examples of the greater contempt when you think of how badly this province needs (a) its energy and (b) its transparency and rules to be able to follow and to be able to grow our economy. Instead, we toss money aside, surely to the contempt for law-abiding citizens.
It is a group not yet mentioned for whom this Liberal government has demonstrated its greatest contempt: my constituents, those people who live in places like Port Bolster, Cookstown, Bell Ewart to Cook’s Bay and many places in between. Those people are the people who work hard to raise their children, to pay their mortgages. Those are the people who coach a sports team, support the Lions and take pride in their community and its well-being. They obey the laws and pay their taxes.
They are also like the vast majority of Ontarians. They want to have respect for the people they elect. They want to trust the people they elect to act with the greater good in mind, to act prudently and judiciously with their money. They have witnessed the opposite. They have witnessed millions of dollars tossed away for the convenience of a political party desperate to save seats. They have watched how the infrastructure of a complex process like the siting of a gas plant and the accompanying environmental process—even the bricks and mortar already in place—can disappear with the ease of seeds from a dandelion in a warm summer breeze.
Mr. Peter Shurman: It’s a great metaphor. It’s a wonderful metaphor.
Mrs. Julia Munro: Thank you.
“Contempt” is described as “a feeling that a person or a thing is beneath consideration.” Feelings are not static. They grow in strength or gradually dissipate. The danger of contempt is that this feeling will grow. It will be fed by cynicism, directly related to lack of plan, lack of accountability, lack of transparency, money tossed to cover up and to silence, and rules as flexible as an elastic, led by a Premier who, at the end of the day, must answer to the people of Ontario.