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Analysis | Gas-plants scandal hurt Liberals long before guilty verdict

Analysis | Gas-plants scandal hurt Liberals long before guilty verdict
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The chief of staff to former Liberal premier Dalton McGuinty was convicted in the deleted gas-plants documents trial Friday; the deputy chief of staff found not guilty.

In the court of public opinion, however, a verdict was long ago reached that the Liberals’ cancellation of two gas-fired power plants in Oakville and Mississauga before the 2011 election was questionable, though perhaps not actionable.

Thanks to the media and to the opposition Progressive Conservatives and New Democrats that controversial move has been litigated in the 2011 and 2014 elections — each of which won by the Liberals.

So, in the parlance of those who toil down Bay Street from Old City Hall courthouse where the verdict was read, the market value of the gas-plants scandal as electoral fodder has probably already been discounted.

Any political damage has long been done to the Liberals, led by Premier Kathleen Wynne since she succeeded McGuinty in 2013.

But with an election set for June 7, it is certainly not helpful to Wynne that Justice Timothy Lipson convicted David Livingston — McGuinty’s last chief of staff — of attempted mischief in relation to data, and unauthorized use of a computer system and now faces possible jail time.

That Lipson cleared deputy chief of staff Laura Miller, whose spouse was paid $11,000 to wipe computer hard-drives in the premier’s office during the transfer of power to Wynne’s team, is small solace for the Grits.

McGuinty staffers ‘destroyed records they had a duty to preserve,’ gas plant trial told

The two Liberal factions have never gotten along and internecine rivalries played a huge role in the decision to delete the computers.

Insiders have insisted to the Star that loyalists to McGuinty were more worried about the snarky things they said in emails about the Wynne arrivistes than the Oakville and Mississauga gas plants.

The enmity between Miller and Livingston and the Liberals now in power at Queen’s Park is underscored by the fact the governing party gave the pair almost no help with legal fees now in the seven-figure range.

That inconvenient truth has long been ignored by those critics convinced the Liberals are crooked.

To them, the politically expedient abandonment of locally unpopular power plants — which auditor general Bonnie Lysyk estimates could cost $1 billion over 20 years — was totally unacceptable.

Never mind that both the Tories and New Democrats also opposed the two plants.

Never mind that no Liberal ever profited personally from the closures.

Never mind that the Grits won all five seats in the vicinity of the plants in both 2011 and 2014 because constituents demanded the facilities be closed.

Perhaps because of those realities it seems as if the gas-plants imbroglio has been settled in the minds of voters for years.

However, the verdict against Livingston bolsters a current Tory election narrative that the Liberals reward insiders through shady dealings.

That storyline suffered a setback last October when two Grits were acquitted in the Sudbury byelection affair, which forced the Conservatives to cut short a $1-million attack ad blitz claiming “the Liberal party is politically corrupt.”

But as the Tories revved up that rhetoric again Friday — PC leader Patrick Brown called the verdict “just one example of the consistent pattern of political corruption by this Liberal government” — there are risks to their strategy.

In desperation, the Liberals might focus more on the Conservatives’ current legal troubles, which could also end up in court.

Unnamed Tory operatives are under criminal investigation by Hamilton Police amid fraud and forgery allegations at a May candidate nomination election.

Federal prosecutors have been assigned to the case, and detectives are still probing the Hamilton West-Ancaster-Dundas riding imbroglio.

The Tories have denied any wrongdoing, but it appears as if the involvement of police in Ontario politics will continue long after the gas-plants scandal has faded from the headlines.
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