A wind energy company suing the province of Ontario for $500 million over the axing of offshore projects is accusing Premier Doug Ford’s Progressive Conservative government of continuing a Liberal “cover up.”
Trillium Wind Power Corp. says Queen’s Park is thwarting the politically sensitive case by blocking access to potentially relevant documents as the firm seeks compensation for four projects that were never built.
A trial has twice been delayed in an action that dates to 2011, when Liberal Dalton McGuinty was premier and the province announced a pre-election moratorium on offshore wind projects pending further study of their environmental impacts.
The government has previously argued Trillium had no legal agreements with the province for its proposed offshore wind developments, including a 420-megawatt effort in Lake Ontario near Kingston, and was merely an “applicant of record.”
Trillium is now seeking court approval of a motion to force the government to search 52 computer hard drives from the McGuinty premier’s office for any documents related to the offshore decision, which the company says was based more on “political science” than natural science, over fears offshore wind opponents would vote against the Liberals.
Trillium lawyer Morris Cooper said the province is also proposing the company — which has no other projects after being “destroyed” by the offshore wind moratorium — post a bond it cannot afford towards the government’s legal costs for the lawsuit to proceed.
“It’s as if Mr. McGuinty has not left the building. That’s what it feels like,” Cooper told the Star.
The Ministry of the Attorney General, headed by cabinet minister Caroline Mulroney, declined specific comment on the issues raised by Trillium and issued a general statement Monday.
“We are reviewing the case and will respond accordingly once a motion record has been served,” a ministry spokesman said.
Twenty-four of the 52 hard drives sought by Trillium were the subject of intense scrutiny and in last year’s trial of two former key McGuinty aides over deleted documents in the cancellation of two gas-fired power plants, also before the 2011 election.
Former chief of staff David Livingston was convicted and sentenced to four months in jail. He is appealing and free on his own recognizance. McGuinty was not a subject of the investigation and co-operated with police.
“To our astonishment … the attorney general is fighting that motion” to search the hard drives, said Cooper.
“This government, after criticizing the former government for all the things they did in the gas plants scandal and the waste of taxpayers’ money, is not only perpetuating the coverup but fighting to suppress evidence,” he added.
“You have this sort of really interesting disconnect, where now that they’re in power and they might have to write the cheque, they’re certainly throwing every obstacle they can at us.”
A hefty legal settlement would increase the challenge facing the Ford government in its promise to cut $6 billion in annual spending. Ontario Provincial Police investigated Trillium’s concerns that documents were deleted but found no grounds to lay charges in 2017.
Conservatives, however, championed the Trillium case in opposition to hammer former premier Kathleen Wynne’s government and remind voters of the fiasco over gas plants scrapped because of community opposition in key Liberal ridings.
MPP Vic Fedeli — now finance minister — raised it in the legislature just a week before last spring’s election campaign began. Fedeli’s office declined to comment Monday, deferring to the attorney general.
“Trillium can’t get the evidence from the Liberals. It has been destroyed. But on this side, we’ve proven that we know how to get that evidence,” Fedeli said in an exchange with then-Liberal attorney general Yasir Naqvi on April 30.
Fedeli insisted it makes no sense that no documents on the offshore cancellation could be found because Trillium corresponded with the premier’s office and has copies.
“Was the destruction of the Trillium documents intentional, or did it happen when the Liberals wiped gas-plant evidence from their computers?” he asked Naqvi, who replied a moratorium was placed on offshore wind projects based on “science and evidence.”
“We can’t comment specifically on the lawsuit from Trillium Power as the lawsuit is before the courts,” Naqvi added at the time.
Since taking office, Ford has cancelled almost 800 renewable onshore energy projects, including a wind farm in Prince Edward County south of Belleville, saying the power is not needed.
The Tories have also amended laws to protect the government from lawsuits seeking compensation.
Rob Ferguson is a Toronto-based reporter covering Ontario politics. Follow him on Twitter: @robferguson1
Robert Benzie is the Star’s Queen’s Park bureau chief and a reporter covering Ontario politics. Follow him on Twitter: @robertbenzie