Premier of Ontario Resigns – Nuclear Fallout

On Oct. 15 Dalton McGuinty announced he will resign as Premier when a successor is chosen, presumably so he can spend more time lying to his family.

 McGuinty’s departure could well have serious consequences for nuclear power in Ontario.

For those who don’t know him, McGuinty is almost a dead ringer for the Norman Bates title character in the classic Hitchcock movie Psycho. I can recall watching it in a Halifax movie theatre around 1960 as part of a group of navy cadets. We thought we were really macho but Psycho scared the crap out of us. That made me leery of McGuinty from the beginning and as it turned out I was right.

For some nine years he presided over an incompetent and scandal-ridden government shrouded in secrecy. Fittingly the last straw was the expensive cancellation of two gas powered generation plants under construction that McGuinty admitted was to ensure the election of members of his party in constituencies surrounding the plants. This was too much for even a passive public to take. The provincial parliament forced the release of some 56,000 pages of hitherto secret documents on the gas plants which apparently paint a dismal picture of government manipulations.

Unfortunately nothing was released concerning the government’s nuclear activities or its renewable energy policies. There were rumours of energy decisions made by a strange bag of motley types: a particularly strident renewables maven, a German energy Munchausen, a cabinet minister with only a fragile attachment to reality, and blowhard industry executives who successfully insisted on secret deals claimed necessary not to impair their competitive positions. Enormous mistakes were made in terms of granting absurdly long-term contracts, sole source contracts, defying the World Trade Organization to  force green energy jobs in Ontario, and ironically ignoring the input of the bloated multiple-agency energy bureaucracy they had set up which merely became grazing grounds for overpaid bureaucrats and consultants.   Energy is a real mess in Ontario.

So what will happen now? The least negative outcome is an even longer delay in starting construction of the new build reactors. The worst result is a decision to drop them altogether and perhaps postpone/cancel the refurbishment of Darlington. Assuming McGuinty’s party will be defeated in the election likely next year neither of the other parties is particularly keen on nuclear power. The NDP has long opposed it on ideological grounds but the big surprise is that the PC party, up until now a traditional supporter of nuclear power, has recanted and is now talking about importing hydroelectricity from neighboring provinces instead of more nuclear.

Overlaying the gloomy political picture are increasing qualms in the business community about the economics of nuclear particularly when compared to natural gas. This coupled with the complete inability of the nuclear industry to finish projects within a factor of two of the original budget and schedule is creating doubts in influential circles. The decision not to refurbish Gentilly is a recent example of where these perceptions lead.  It’s not so much McGuinty’s departure itself that will be the problem but unfortunately the precipitation of factors already out there occasioned by it may well result in a new negative attitude toward nuclear power on the part of decision makers.   I’m afraid the future of nuclear power in Ontario (and that essentially means Canada) is looking very grim indeed.