TORONTO - Ontario's opposition parties accused the governing Liberals of hypocrisy Monday after Premier Kathleen Wynne released an open letter promising more openness and transparency.
The Progressive Conservatives and New Democrats said the Liberals' efforts to cover up the gas plants scandal — which cost taxpayers up to $1.1 billion — speak a lot louder than their words.
"How dare they talk about open access to government information when they spent years covering up the gas plant scandal," PC Leader Tim Hudak told reporters. "It made me think Kathleen Wynne and the Liberals are a bunch of hypocrites."
In her open letter to the "people of Ontario," Wynne said she wants to make government information easier to find, understand and use so the province can design services that deliver better results.
"Part of this process will be the use of innovative models of public engagement, giving you a greater say on a range of items, including transit, regional economic development and fiscal responsibility," she wrote.
The NDP questioned Wynne's appeal for a new era of openness in government at the same time the premier refuses to agree to appear a second time at committee hearings into the cancelled gas plants in Oakville and Mississauga.
"We had to drag them kicking and screaming to give Ontarians the answers, and even to this day the premier is refusing to come back to the committee to deal with the gas plant issues that came up in the auditor's report," said NDP Leader Andrea Horwath.
"I think what people expect is their government to be open and transparent, but apparently Kathleen Wynne needs a panel to show her how to do it."
Wynne said Ontario taxpayers may not have been as surprised by the billion-dollar-plus cost of cancelling the gas plants prior to the 2011 election if the government had been more open and transparent with its data.
"It's much bigger than one issue," Wynne told reporters. "So in the context of the gas plant discussion my hope would be that if we had some of these processes in place, or had had them in place, there would have been more information available to people earlier."
Hudak said the Liberals cancelled the gas plants to save Liberal seats in the 2011 election, but Ontario taxpayers will be stuck with the billion-dollar tab.
"We've seen a pattern of deliberate decision making by the Liberals to put their own political party interests ahead of the interests of taxpayers," added Hudak.
"We've had not one but two major gas plant scandals, eHealth, Ornge, Ontario Lottery and Gaming and now the Pan Am Games. How much more evidence do you need that all Liberals care about is themselves?"
Wynne said the government would engage the public in finding the best ways to make the government more open and transparent.
"We will also create a central space online where people can find information about government consultations, get engaged in that process, and express their ideas on government policy," she wrote.
The scandal-plagued Liberals have no credibility whatsoever to call for openness and transparency in government, said Hudak.
"I think that ship sailed long ago," he said.
Hudak pointed out the Tories and New Democrats had to continually fight the Liberal government before it turned over 160,000 documents on the cancelled gas plants.
The government's initial refusal to release the documents led to a rare contempt of parliament charge, which prompted Dalton McGuinty's decision to prorogue the legislature in October 2012 and announce his resignation.
Hudak mocked the Liberals' plan to set up an expert panel to study ways of achieving a more open government, saying they should worry more about the economy and creating jobs.
"Kathleen Wynne's been premier for nine months and we've had all kinds of consultations, hand-holding, all kinds of studies, but my question is where's the plan for jobs," said Hudak. "Enough conversations. It's time for action."
Wynne's open letter promised new initiatives to improve government transparency and accountability.
"I believe that government data belongs to the people of Ontario and so we will make government data open by default, limiting access only to safeguard privacy, security and confidentiality," she wrote.
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