Gas Busters Part 23: FOI Documents Reveal McGuinty’s Gas Plant Oversight

Over the course of 2012 from the beginning of January through to October 1, the Ontario’s then Premier McGuinty and his office were supervising one of the key files of his entire period of leadership–the cancelled west GTA gas plants and their relocation.

The issue was hot. Outraged constituents were bombarding him with complaints. The media and opposition were hounding him. His officials were negotiating 20 year contracts with the jilted developers for relocating plants once committed for Mississauga and Oakville. The amount of public money at stake eventually added up to what McGuinty has claimed is $230 million (Gas Busters readers will know how deficient I consider that figure).

In November, I filed a Freedom of Information request to see what the Premier saw and wrote about both the Mississauga and Oakville power plants. My request specified documents from 2012. All of the documents so far on the public record about the gas plant relocation arise from the Estimates Committee motion for disclosure which specified documents from 2010 and 2011.

The resulting disclosure, issued by Cabinet Office on the first day of Kathleen Wynne’s fresh premiership, reveal a total absence of due diligence.

The attached package starts with my original request, followed by exchanges with the FOI administrators, followed by the documents finally released to me. 

The released documents are a total of 88 pages. The first two documents are versions of a Memorandum of Understanding with TransCanada. After that, the released documents are a series of opinion summaries, talking points, media scrum transcripts, news clippings, and press releases.

In the middle of the package, there is an eight page undated document called “Backgrounder — Costs of Relocation of the Mississauga Gas Plant”. The document is designed to prop up the argument that the cost of relocation was $180 million. McGuinty’s team later admitted that the cost was $190 million. Some of the key financial issues associated with the relocation, such as the windfall to Eastern Power arising from the gas management cost advantage resulting from the relocation, are ignored. However, one important point that has not been addressed so far in the public debate to my knowledge is addressed on the last page. The last page notes that Eastern Power presented an early offer to settle at a lower cost. Minister Bentley’s indecision appears to have escalating costs to consumers, and issue I hope to explore in future editions of the Gas Buster series.

After another 10 pages of communications fluff, there is a letter dated September 24, 2012. The letter is sent to the government by employees of Eastern Power working at an unrelated power plant. Eastern had fired these employees in an apparent effort to apply more pressure on the government negotiators. Eastern’s treatment of its own employees raises additional questions about the wisdom of the OPA’s original decision to contract with Eastern.

The remainder of the package is comprised of complaints from the public and press clippings.

Notice the absence of any information that would indicate McGuinty ensuring protection of the public interest in the implementation of his decisions. 

At one point, government’s code name for the gas relocation project was Project Vapour. These new FOI documents suggest that McGuinty oversight of his power plant decisions can be fairly characterized as Premier Vapid.

FOI Documents from Premier’s Office re. Gas Plants