Tensions are high, relationships fractious, nerves frayed.
While Premier Kathleen Wynne and her predecessor, Dalton McGuinty, are publicly civil toward one another, behind the scenes, the gas-plants scandal has exposed a schism within the Liberals.
Wynne’s camp is furious that police allegations against McGuinty’s former top aides threaten the survival of her minority government, insiders say.
At the same time, some loyalists of the ex-premier, now a fellow at Harvard University, grouse that she is squandering a dynasty they spent a decade building.
These pessimists privately fear her Liberals might finish third behind Tim Hudak’s Progressive Conservatives and Andrea Horwath’s New Democrats in an election that could come in June — despite public opinion polls suggesting the Grits could be re-elected.
Wynne has stopped mentioning McGuinty by name — he is “the former premier” and his staffers now under the cloud of an OPP probe are dismissed as “the former premier’s office.”
She boasts far less than she once did about his achievements during 10 years in power — such as improving health care and education by reducing class sizes, introducing full-day kindergarten and cutting medical wait times and boosting access to doctors.
Her underlying message, which is not discouraged by her aides, is that she and her team are different — read, more honest and transparent — than the McGuinty crew.
“That is not the way government should operate. That is not the way a premier’s office should conduct itself and it is not the way my office operates,” Wynne said March 27.
Her comments came hours after the latest developments in the saga swirling around McGuinty’s cancellation of gas-fired power plants in Oakville and Mississauga before the 2011 election.
Rattled by local outcry over the electricity-generating facilities his government had approved, the then-premier and his inner circle scrambled to scuttle them.
Although the Liberals won the five nearby ridings, the tally for relocating the plants could be up to $1.1 billion over 20 years, according to the auditor general.
The political fallout has also been costly for the governing party.
Ontario Provincial Police are investigating David Livingston, McGuinty’s last chief of staff, for breach of trust, alleging he obtained a special password that enabled a non-government employee to scrub politically sensitive government documents from as many as 24 computer hard drives in the premier’s office.
Police suspect the cleaning was done by computer expert Peter Faist, the boyfriend of Livington’s then deputy chief of staff Laura Miller. (She is now executive director of the British Columbia Liberal Party under B.C. Premier Christy Clark.)
Faist’s retainer with the Ontario Liberal Party was abruptly cancelled last Sunday. Sources say Wynne’s office didn’t know he even had a contract with the party to provide computer services.
The OPP allegations, detailed in a 111-page application for a search warrant to obtain the 24 hard drives, have not been tested in court and no charges have been laid as the OPP investigation continues. Livingston and Faist deny any wrongdoing.
But with an election looming, opposition parties have been taking full advantage of events to slam the Liberals.
“This is now clearly more Kathleen Wynne’s scandal than Dalton McGuinty’s,” crowed Progressive Conservative Leader Tim Hudak.
The former premier is watching from the sidelines.
“There’s not a lot I can say,” McGuinty told the Star on Monday from Cambridge, Mass., when asked about the police probe.
“All my staff who worked in my office were hard-working, dedicated, always committed to the highest standard of public service,” he added, acknowledging he had phoned Livingston to “check up on him” and emailed Miller.
“These are obviously difficult matters for individuals and their loved ones to deal with,” said McGuinty, who is writing a book on what he considers the 10 keys to effective leadership.
It’s unclear if his forthcoming tome will discuss the gas-plants debacle that sparked his Oct. 15, 2012 resignation announcement.
Wynne has not disguised her frustration at being tarred with the dark side of the McGuinty legacy, which includes a separate OPP probe into questionable financial dealings at the scandal-plagued ORNGE air ambulance service.
“If true, these serious allegations are very disturbing,” the premier said, noting she has nothing to do with Livingston.
“I want to be clear — this individual does not work in my office nor in my government. Nor has he ever worked in my government,” she said.
“Since my first day as premier, I have been committed to getting all the facts out about the Mississauga and Oakville gas plant relocations. I promised to open up the government completely, and have done so to an unprecedented degree.”
Horwath said Wynne doth protest too much, given that police have been “wandering these halls” at Queen’s Park interviewing former McGuinty staffers who now work in the Wynne administration.
They include Lauren Ramey, who is now press secretary to Education Minister Liz Sandals. Police claim her computer was the first to be wiped by Faist on Feb. 7, 2013, just days before Wynne took power on Feb. 11.
“All the while, the premier is claiming she knew nothing about any of this until the reports came out in the paper. I find this hard to believe,” Horwath told reporters.
“There are a lot of answers that remain out there to be uncovered,” added the NDP leader, who must decide whether to allow Finance Minister Charles Sousa’s May 1 budget to pass or join Progressive Conservative Leader Tim Hudak in defeating it, plunging Ontario into an election.
OPP Det.-Const. Andr
Legally speaking, you are anyways entitled to one 100% free credit report every year.