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Ontario's Dirty Secrets

Five coal-fired power plants run by Ontario Power Generation (formerly Ontario Hydro) generate as much air pollution as five million cars – tens of thousands of tonnes of smog-causing nitrogen oxides and sulphur dioxide as well as millions of tonnes of greenhouse gases that contribute to climate-change problems.

In fact, Ontario Power Generation runs North America’s biggest coal-fired power plant – the Nanticoke Station on Lake Erie. It’s not something we should be proud of.

The government of Ontario has announced a new system of trading pollution credits that will allow Ontario Power to actually pump out more of these smog-causing pollutants instead of taking steps to seriously reduce these health hazards. These new rules will also open the door to importing dirty power from the U.S. – at the cost of our health and our children’s health.

The following is an excerpt from the May 17, 2000 Hansard for the Ontario Legislature with regard to Ontario Power Generation and Lakeview coal-fired power plant.

Mr Dalton McGuinty (Leader of the Opposition): My first question is for the Premier. I have in my hand a copy of a document recently filed by Ontario Power Generation with the Ontario Securities Commission. It tells us a couple of things about the president. It tells us that his salary last year was $1.7 million. It also provides that he's entitled to a long-term incentive plan package of $843,500 if he helps bring about corporate results, which you and I both know to mean corporate profits.

I'll tell you what I'm concerned about. The president and others at Ontario Power Generation are considering the sale of the Lakeview coal-fired power plant. If they sell it as is, they'll make more money. If they place a condition on it that there be a conversion program put in place to convert from dirty coal-fired to cleaner natural gas-fired, they're going to make less money. What we have in place here is a perverse incentive plan that rewards the president for selling a dirtier plant and punishes him if he sells a cleaner plant. Do you approve, Premier, of this perverse incentive program?

Hon Michael D. Harris (Premier): Yes, Mr Speaker. Mr McGuinty: Premier, I can't believe you understood what I said. I can't believe you said here today on behalf of the people of Ontario, but most particularly on behalf of the people living in the GTA, who will be exposed to the pollution coming from a coal-fired plant, that you think this is a good idea — because that's exactly what you just said. If this plant is sold as is, the poisonous air pollution emanating from Lakeview would be like adding a million cars to the GTA. We have in place an incentive plan that rewards not only the president but other officers. It rewards the directing mind in a perverse way. It says you will make more money if you sell this plant as is, but on the other hand, if you place a condition on it that makes it safer for the people living in the GTA, then you're going to make less money. I will ask you one more time, Premier, do you approve of this perverse incentive package?

Hon Mr Harris: Yes, Mr Speaker

Mr McGuinty: Let's take a look at your record now, Premier. We are the second-worst polluter today in North America. Doctors tell us that air pollution is killing 1,800 Ontarians every year. We also know that air pollution costs our health system over $1 billion every year. You are the only shareholder in Ontario Power Generation; the government is the only shareholder. As the special shareholder, I am sure that you would want this company to act in a socially responsible manner. That means you will not permit this incentive package to continue. As Premier for all of Ontario and as somebody who is presumably committed to our health, you will not allow this package to stand. Premier, tell me you misspoke yourself the first two times. You've had an opportunity to reconsider. You're going to stand up, you're going to do the right thing and you're going to disagree with this incentive package.

Hon Mr Harris: So far in the first two questions I've said yes and yes. It's pretty hard to say I misspoke myself. I'm very supportive of the incentive plan that we have put before our senior people in our bureaucracy and the incentive with the CEO of Ontario Hydro. It has led to unprecedented debt reduction that you were never able to achieve when you were in charge, or that the NDP were ever able to achieve, of about $3 billion over the last two years. As well, the incentive package has equal weight on environmental incentives as it does on the dollar incentive. Finally, it is not up to Ontario Hydro to give us environmental conditions; it's up to the Minister of the Environment, who said there will be no sale of the Lakeview plant as a coal-burning facility. That's not a Hydro decision.

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