Former Ontario premier Dalton McGuinty admits to dropping the ball on a project that cost Ontario taxpayers a bundle of money. But he says he does not regret canceling plans to build gas plants in Oakville and Mississauga.
Visiting Burlington recently to promote his new book ‘Dalton McGuinty: Making A Difference’, the former premier was interviewed by Burlington MPP Eleanor McMahon before an audience at the Burlington Art Gallery.
McGuinty canceled two gas plants – one in Oakville, the other in Mississauga – in a move the Province’s auditor-general said cost taxpayers about $1.1 billion.
David Livingston, McGuinty’s last chief of staff, and deputy-chief Laura Miller have been charged with breach of trust, mischief in relation to data and misuse of a computer system.
Both have refuted the charges and McGuinty has co-operated with police throughout the investigation.
Police allege that $10,000 from the Liberal caucus budget, which is funded by taxpayers, was paid to Peter Faist, Miller’s common-law spouse, to clear e-mails from hard-drives in the Premier’s office. The money was later put back into the public treasury.
The allegations have not been proved in court.
“I take full responsibility for failing to put in place measures to fully oversee the Ontario Power Authority,” he said.
“People are entitled to think what they want. I did it (cancellation) because I thought it was the right thing to do. The process got that far because I took my eye off the ball.
“These two plants were shoehorned into communities and wrongly located. One was to be beside a hospital.
“What I didn’t get right was not staying on top of the Ontario Power Authority and monitoring it.”
McGuinty said he is not aware of the facts that form the basis for the allegations and does not know if he will be called as a witness in the court proceedings.
“It was an honor for me to work with these people,” he said. “They are honest and hardworking. This is a very unfortunate turn of events.”
In 2011, McGuinty became the first Liberal Premier to secure a third consecutive term since Oliver Mowat (1872-1896).
McGuinty said the toughest moment of his three terms as Premier was the day he was told his government had inherited a $1.56 billion deficit.
“I had committed not to raise taxes, I had promised to build schools and hospitals,” he said. “I lost weight and couldn’t sleep at night.”
Eventually, he introduced the Ontario health premium tax and, although it was unpopular with many, he won a majority in the next provincial election. Subsequently, the Liberal government adopted a law forbidding future governments to run deficits.
Another difficult decision, he said, was instituting the harmonized sales tax (HST). Fortunately for him, people reluctantly accepted it.
“I always think back to my maiden speech in the Legislature in 1990 when I said a government should keep no friends,” he said. “You always have to uphold the public interest.”
McGuinty said he tried to initiate a working relationship with Prime Minister Stephen Harper, but didn’t succeed.
“My first meeting with him was in 2007 in Harper’s hotel suite with the stipulation by him that no photographers be present,” McGuinty said. “I assured the Prime Minister I would not allow the media to goad me into saying something unflattering about him, but we never got to the kind of relationship I had with other Prime Ministers and Premiers.”
McGuinty said Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau held 23 meetings with the Premiers, Brian Mulroney 14 and Jean Chretien seven. But Harper hosted just two.
The former premier said Question Period in the Legislature has become a metaphor for what ails politics generally.
“We need to introduce more respect into the system,” he said.
He said he’s proud he was able to create changes that allow a private member’s bill to be introduced across party lines.
McGuinty said he never took anything for granted in politics.
“Every time we won, I didn’t want to celebrate,” he said. “I always felt a bit humble and I felt overwhelmed with the privilege and responsibility of public service.”
You have to recognize your shortcomings.
“Everybody who ran against me, I put into my cabinet.”
Even when he lost an election in 1999, McGuinty said he was consoled by the words of Progressive Conservative leader Mike Harris, who had been elected Premier.
“He said, ‘Hang in there, I’ve been there’,” McGuinty recalled.
Written by: Denis Gibbons