The announcement, like all decisions the government would rather keep quiet, came late one Friday afternoon earlier this month. A large natural-gas electrical generating station will be plunked on the city's waterfront - and there's no environmental assessment in sight.
Not a worry for Environment Minister Leona Dombrowsky, it turns out. Her rep, John Steele, says air quality monitoring systems will be put in place and that the facility must shut down if water discharge temperatures rise above limits.
But this is far from reassuring, and strangely antithetical to other Grit initiatives. Libs are supposedly reviewing both the previous Tory government's EA legislation and its air quality standards, which they deemed inadequate. Yet they seem prepared to allow a power plant that even its proponents, TransCanada and Ontario Power Generation (OPG), admit will push "background nitrous oxide" and particulate matter levels to a point where they will "have the potential to impact on the health of people in this area."
There's no saving grace here at all. The plant, called the Portlands Energy Centre, will not even create co-generation (reusing steam to heat buildings or power industry), as was first advertised. "It was a business decision,' says Steele of jettisoning the co-gen option.
But it was co-gen that was the sweetener for enviro orgs , including the Toronto Environmental Alliance, from the start. The plant, they figured, would at least be better than those burning coal.
But now, with co-gen dumped, TEA's changed its tune. "We think it's ludicrous," says TEA's smog and climate change coordinator, Keith Stewart. "It's the first gas plant, so we might as well build the best one possible if we're going to burn a non-renewable fuel that creates smog and greenhouse gas emissions."
Though the move toward deregulation was ostensibly about encouraging greater diversity in the energy-generating sector, this plan smells like good old-fashioned crony interventionism.
While PEC was obtaining approvals, the Toronto Waterfront Revitalization Corporation (TWRC) was silent, despite promising on numerous occasions that public input and environmental assessments would be coordinated.
Could the fact that Bill Farlinger, once the chair of OPG, had a seat on the TWRC board when PEC was being discussed have had something to do with it? It was extremely poor governance practice to put the chair of a Crown corporation - which he was operating in a newly deregulated industry - on the board of an urban renewal body like the TWR, all the more so that the corporation has private business concerns in the area being renewed. The Liberals pointed this out in opposition, and Harris did nothing. Now that the Liberals are in power, Farlinger's gone, but Liberal opportunism may still cost us.