Bob Chiarelli, Ontario’s new energy minister, is a rock steady, highly competent high level guy. He is the right man in the right portfolio, especially considering that his government has entered its first major set of rapids, with his revelation that his ministry has discovered yet more documents relating to the gas plant cancellations. Chiarelli was the mayor of my home town of Ottawa for many years. He was a superb mayor and even though I come from Dipper stock and he is a Liberal I tried to get him reelected in 2006. I was extremely disappointed that that effort was not successful. One of his greatest moments was during the Ice Storm of 1998; when there’s a crisis, he is the kind of guy you want at the helm.
Like his predecessor Chris Bentley, Chiarelli had nothing to do with any of the decisions surrounding the gas plants. The most controversial of these decisions was cancelling the Mississauga gas plant just days before the October 2011 provincial election. That appears to have been a political campaign decision. This was confirmed this afternoon by the premier herself, in an interview with Steve Paikin; see below.
So Chiarelli is in the Energy portfolio today, as Bentley was before him, to handle a mess that somebody else caused. Well, that’s politics. As I said, he is the right man for that job. That’s leadership.
“Leadership’s when they give you the ball. Sometimes you don’t even want the ball… .”
—Bob Dole, U.S. Republican senator and aspiring presidential candidate, 1987, referring to his thankless job of steering through the senate confirmation process the ultimately unsuccessful nomination of Robert Bork to the supreme court.
Chiarelli’s main strategic challenge, beyond handling the gas plant fiasco, is to reframe the previous premier’s energy record as one of shining success. That is not hard to do, provided he keeps his eye on the right ball.
The right ball is: carbon reductions. Dalton McGuinty’s real aim in phasing out the Ontario coal-fired power plants was to reduce carbon emissions. These had climbed to a whopping 42 million tons annually from Ontario’s electricity generation sector; this was the direct result of the previous governments’ having deferred the refurbishment of the provincial nuclear fleet.
The year that McGuinty effectively left office, 2012, Ontario annual power sector carbon emissions had dropped to around 16 million tons.
To repeat: when McGuinty became premier, annual power sector carbon emissions were 43 million tons; when he left office, they were 16 million tons.
That is a stunning achievement. And it is almost totally unsung, including, incredibly, by McGuinty himself. I wrote about this remarkable omission an article entitled “Dalton McGuinty: the clean energy premier who covered up a proud environmental record.” In that article, I wondered if McGuinty had become, in the maelstrom of pressure that goes with being premier, too fixated on the politically correct how of carbon reductions instead of simply going with what was working.
What was working was, of course, the provincial nuclear fleet. The greatest environmental developments that occurred under McGuinty’s premiership were the return to service of six of the eight laid up nuclear units. That, not the much-touted Green Energy Act, was what restored Ontario to its position of unassailable leadership in carbon reductions.
Bob Chiarelli should point up this record, because it is a proud one. It also has nothing to do with the gas plants.