Conflicts of interest Ontario-style
Redefining Conflicts of Interest in Ontario
At the eleventh hour, the appealsto the Ostrander Point Wind Energy Park LP (OP) Environmental Review Tribunal (ERT) suddenly rolled in!
The ERT had ruled earlier on the Renewable Energy Approval (REA) issued by the Ministry of the Environment (MoE) to Gilead Power for the Ostrander Point 22.5 MW, nine-industrial-wind-turbine development. The ruling of July 2, 2013 allowed MoE and Gilead Power [OP] 30 days to appeal the ruling. The ruling by the ERT recognized the objection(s) raised by the Prince Edward County Field Naturalists (PECFN) that would affect a reptile (Blanding’s turtle) that is on the Ministry of Natural Resources’ (MNR) endangered species list. This decision represented the first win by anyone appealing an REA in Ontario, and was widely seen as a milestone among the many groups fighting the erection of wind turbines that have cost numerous appellants considerable grief and after tax dollars.
The Gilead turbines were to be placed on Crown Land leased by the MNR for a reported $230,000 over the 20 years of the contract granted to them by the Ontario Power Authority (OPA). Those monies may have covered the salary costs of the MNR’s legal team for one year. Overall the ERT review took 40 days of hearings and collectively probably cost well over $1 million for the legal fees alone.
Ironically OP is partially owned by OPTrust, the pension fund for the Ontario Public Sector Employees Union (OPSEU). Perhaps we should relabel them OPSUEas the MoE is a party to the appeal process and one would assume many of their employees are members. OPTrust is a very large pension fund; in its 2012 annual report is the following:
“The Private Markets Group has also made a number of significant investments in renewable energy projects as part of our infrastructure portfolio. Investments in these regulated assets support our SRIP, both contributing to and benefiting from global efforts to reduce carbon emissions and other pollutants associated with many traditional sources of energy.”
If one further examines Gilead Power and the MNR’s Crown land, one discovers that Gilead have either leased or optioned to lease three other properties where they plan to erect wind turbines. In the event other groups challenge them on those other three properties, it is probably important to them that they win this appeal, in the event those other locations contain “endangered” species. One assumes Gilead’s leasing costs would be considerably less than if they were paying private land owners rather than a ministry of the Crown.
Halfway through the 30 days allowed for the ERT appeal the MNR’s Minister, David Orazietti announced a $5-million fund to protect “species at risk” and in the photo op was seen holding a Blanding’s turtle. Now isn’t that ironic!
Photo from MSN News
So one can understand why Gilead would appeal the decision by the ERT because it cares about the money, but what is the MoE doing appealing? Doesn’t it seem strange that one ministry of the provincial government is challenging another ministry? The MoE issued the Renewable Energy Approval (which the ERT rejected because it would negatively affect the “endangered species”) while another ministry– the MNR–is handing out money to protect that species of animal, while saying it’s OK to “kill, harm and harass” animals at a project site.*
This would appear to be an obvious conflict of interest; perhaps the Conflict of Interest Commissioner, the Honourable Sidney Linden of Ipperwash Inquiry fame, should be involved. (The Commission pays well: the 2012 “Sunshine List” indicates Linden earned $297,000 in salary.)
The total budget for the Conflict Commission office was less than $1 million so it is not much of a burden on taxpayers. It was created in 2006 by the Liberals and contains lofty goals which are spelled out in the 2012 Annual Report as:
“The Public Service of Ontario Act, 2006 (PSOA) was proclaimed in August 2007. In enacting this legislation, the government intended to strengthen the ethical and accountability framework governing the Ontario public service”
“Most people would agree that it is important to promote and maintain the high ideals of public service. However, debate continues about how best to achieve this. In the area of conflict of interest, the debate often centres on the merits of specific rules as opposed to general principles.”
Those “high ideals of public service” in this instance, are perhaps something the Honourable Sidney Linden could sink his teeth into based on the obvious conflict(s) that are involved in this particular OPA contract and the MoE Renewable Energy Approval, and the MNR’s alleged concern about the “species at risk.”
To further augment the investigation by the Commissioner he should perhaps entertain the concept of investigating any relationship between Gilead and wpd Canada Corporationwho have a contract from the OPA for “White Pines,” a 60 MW, 29-turbine project right next to the Ostrander Point project. The Blanding’s turtle is known to also be present on the land for that project, too. One would expect wpd to be firmly behind the Gilead/MoE appeal; it would be interesting to know if they have offered to contribute to the Gilead/MoE legal bill.
Is this a nice opportunity for the Commissioner to have a “conversation” with Kathleen Wynne, the new Premier of Ontario, and update her on the challenges readily apparent in this “conflict!”
August 6, 2013
*Editor’s note: This is similar to the Algoma region of Ontario, where the Ontario government has contributed millions of taxpayer dollars toward boosting tourism in the area, but at the same time, another government body in encouraging invasive wind power development, is undermining tourism! And what about the lawyer for the Ministry of the Environment commenting at the closing remarks of the Ostrander ERT that people reporting health effects from turbine noise were a couple of rungs short of a ladder, while the Ministry of Health is spending millions to de-stigmatize mental illness, specifically depression and anxiety?