Three days before Environment Minister John Gerretsen was to make a key decision about the fate of the wind-power project on Wolfe Island, the Kingston and the Islands MPP has withdrawn from the heart of the contentious issue.
Gerretsen yesterday announced he was recusing his decision-making authority with respect to the Wolfe Island Wind Project because of allegations from island residents that he was in a conflict of interest.
In a letter sent to media outlets and about 15 citizens on Wolfe Island, Gerretsen described how opponents to the project have questioned his ability to deal with the project in a “fair and unbiased fashion.”
“I take any potential conflict of interest allegations very seriously,” Gerretsen told the Whig-Standard.
He declined to comment on whether he personally believes he was in a conflict situation.
“I’d rather not give you my own personal opinion on it at this point in time,” he said in an interview. “I’m not prepared to answer that. “I did what I thought was the right action and the integrity commissioner has dealt with that.”
The allegations stem from Gerretsen’s attendance last summer, before he was appointed environment minister, at a corn roast on Wolfe Island organized by Canadian Hydro Developers Inc., the proponent for the wind project. The event, held at a private residence, was also attended by local media and municipal politicians from the Township of Frontenac Islands.
As well, the proponents, Canadian Hydro, bought tickets totalling $1,500 to attend at least one fundraising dinner for Gerretsen.
Gerretsen made the decision to divest himself of the decision-making responsibility on the wind project after consulting with Ontario’s integrity commissioner, whose office ensures that provincial politicians aren’t making decisions on issues that could benefit them.
“As a result of [the integrity commissioner’s] advice and ruling, Premier Dalton McGuinty has appointed Tourism Minister Peter Fonseca, to exercise my decision-making authority with respect to the Wolfe Island Wind Project,” Gerretsen wrote in his letter to constituents.
While the integrity commissioner determined there was no conflict of interest, she recommended Gerretsen to withdraw from the decision-making process because of a perceived conflict.
In her written decision to Gerretsen, she addressed his attendance at a Canadian Hydro Developers Inc. event last year.
“It is my opinion attending and speaking at the event was not contrary to the Members’ Integrity Act. However, both of these events appear to have created a perception that you favour one group of ministry stakeholders over another,” said Lynn Morrison, acting integrity commissioner.
In a letter to Gerretsen, Fonseca and deputy environment minister Gail Beggs, McGuinty directed ministry officials to “refrain from having any discussions with Minister Gerretsen or his staff on this file, and to seek direction from Minister Fonseca on the matter as appropriate.”
It’s unknown whether the decision that was expected early next week will still be made on schedule.
Gerretsen had been reviewing a decision of the director of the environmental assessment and approvals branch not to grant a request from citizens to require Canadian Hydro to complete an environmental assessment that will investigate the impacts of the project.
“I would imagine that it will still be within the timelines, but it may be somewhat later,” said Gerretsen. “These decisions aren’t always necessarily made within the necessary timelines.”
He said Fonseca will be briefed by Environment Ministry officials.
By Jennifer Pritchett
30 May 2008
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