A cri de coeur of parliamentarians that oppose government is to call everything, real or not, a scandal. To be sure, as I have written on these pages before, there were many within our own ranks that questioned whether this gas plants scandal really amounted to a scandal at all. However, what is undeniably true about the gas plants scandal is this: there has never – I mean never! – been a scandal in Canadian history that has been so independently verified. There were two Auditor-General reports, an Information and Privacy Commissioner Report, an OPP Investigation, a Crown attorney to take the case, and now a judge ruling that criminal things happened.
If you were to ask me in the spring of 2012 whether the cancellation costs of the gas plants that we were asking about in the Estimates Committee would still be part of our public discourse in January 2018, I’d have laughed. And while we had the Energy Minister sitting in our cross hairs, many in the PC Caucus wanted to talk about wind turbines instead. Funny how consequential priorities can be!
Then, as things got hot in the fall of 2012 with my successful contempt motion – the first successful contempt motion in more than a century – things got so out of control for the government, that it had to prorogue and McGuinty announced his resignation. Being in contempt of parliament is a serious charge, as serious as being in contempt of court. It occurred to me at the time how serious it was. We were charging that the Minister of Energy, the Ministry of Energy, and the Ontario Power Authority did not disclose e-mails it was obligated to disclose by order of the Estimates Committee. It was important to word it that way. Both opposition parties didn’t want it worded that specifically Chris Bentley, the Minister responsible at the time, was in contempt. Our deal with the NDP was predicated on maintaining the Minister responsible rather than the individual himself be named in our push. Of course, this is something that was subtle but important, and Liberals never saw this as anything less than a witch hunt against one of their most competent ministers. Nevertheless, the gloves were off and I pushed forth knowing that I just placed a huge target on my back. You may not have known this, but it turns out that a lot of politicians don’t like that kind of fight. However, I just felt like I was elected to do my job holding the government to account, and I wasn’t going to be afraid to do it.
During debate of my contempt motion, every Liberal speech made sure to mention that “the motion form the Member for Cambridge…” i.e. me… “is mean spirited and vindictive.” It didn’t matter that the majority of members of the legislature agreed with the motion. I got the sense that I was going to be a punching bag for awhile. After McGuinty announced his resignation, he met the press and told them that the historic contempt motion was “phoney” and that the whole contempt debate basically shut down parliament to deal with nonsense garbage for more than a week. I think it touched a nerve. Oh, and in some of the e-mails we retrieved that weren’t deleted, we found out that the Premier’s Office debated suing some of us in the opposition over the debacle. They opted against that strategy because they’d have to disclose e-mails during the trial’s discovery, which is what they wanted to avoid.
Then, in 2014, we lost an election. With a target on my back, I lost too. They say politics is a blood sport, and I had to lick my wounds. A lot has been said about that election. You know, the Tory campaign was death by 100,000 job cuts or that we snapped defeat from the jaws of victory. However, I saw then, and see now, that the election was not about any one policy. It was about which would triumph more: Truth or Deceit. The biggest problem of the Tory campaign in my mind wasn’t the 100,000 job cuts. It was that we couldn’t focus the electorate on the fact that this government will do anything and say anything to be in power. We had hundreds of thousands of e-mails – the ones that weren’t deleted – to prove it too. But there we were, being bluntly honest about what we would do without reminding the electorate enough about why we were doing it. Instead, our honesty was spun with the same dishonesty we have come to expect. Reducing 100,000 jobs in the public sector meant we were “firing” people or giving them “pink slips.” I wonder if the 8,000 people who work for Hyrdo One got “fired” once their public sector job turned into a private sector one when the government privatized it? Oh the stuff I’d say if I was still in office! Yet, in 2014, we failed. I failed. It was a tough pill to swallow given how relentless we had been in the legislature. The men and women I served with, both as a caucus and along with our staff, were an incredibly talented group deserving of a shot to govern. It was so disappointing not to have had that shot. I know I am echoing the sentiments of our caucus and staff when I say this.
Returned with a majority government, the Liberals washed the whole contempt and committee report under the rug. To this day, I have not returned to the legislative chambers, but I remember watching the proceedings all summer long, both in debate and in committee. It was killing me, and I had to stop watching. I mean, all that hard work, all those long hours, all that reading, all that strategy, all that media, all that tour, and barely anything to show for it. I got McGuinty’s memoir for Christmas. I read it all. It still sits on my bedside table. The title is called “Making a Difference” and the book reads as fluffy as the title. No contrition in the book. No regret. Only great things. I remember clearly feeling that history would not be written the way I saw it. So I stopped writing my version.
To my surprise, the OPP continued to investigate. When I met with the OPP investigators assigned to the case in my Queen’s Park office in 2013, they told me their investigation would take a very long time – months, if not years. Then, charges were laid. A Crown attorney pursued those charges, and, all of a sudden, what I felt was lost came back. I followed the trial closely. I knew the material as well as anyone. When Peter Wallace took the stand, I simply could not believe what I was hearing. To be clear, I had not expected Peter Wallace to be a great witness. We called him to testify in committee responsible for the contempt charges, and while we thought he was competent, we didn’t get much out of him. In hindsight, it’s probably because we didn’t ask him the right questions, and probably he feels more liberated to talk about it now that he’s out of the provincial government.
And then, a remarkable thing happened last week. Something entirely shocking, in fact. The judge in the trial found Livingston guilty of destroying evidence. The Crown attorney emerged from court saying he wants to lock him up. I really could not believe it. Now, if I was in politics, I probably would have said something stupid like ‘we’re pleased with the verdict, but it’s a sad day for Ontario.’ Screw that! The verdict was a victory for democracy, for good public administration, for the integrity of the Freedom of Information process, for people who want accountable and responsible government, and for those that seek the truth.
I have had an unusual spring in my step. Now there is something to show for all those long days and nights. They say in politics that your true worth and contribution isn’t likely known until some years have passed since you left. That is ringing true for me now.
It is somewhat odd to see that in the court of law you are successful where you couldn’t be in the court of public opinion. Last week’s ruling validated our pursuit of the truth in ways I am only starting to explain. So maybe I will get to write the final chapter of the biggest scandal in Ontario’s history after all, except my tail won’t at all be fluffy.