The Ontario Power Authority is conducting an internal investigation into allegations an employee profited as a result of negotiations between the agency and TransCanada over the cancellation of the Oakville gas plant, the Star has learned.
The agency, which is responsible for long-range planning for Ontario’s electricity needs, confirmed Thursday it hired an outside lawyer six months ago to probe the allegations but refused to identify the employee or the lawyer.
OPA spokesperson Kristin Jenkins said the allegations, received by the OPA in May, included claims that an employee held and or purchased stocks in TransCanada during negotiations between the agency and the company with respect to the cancellation of the Oakville gas plant and subsequently profited from the stock transactions.
The controversial TransCanada Oakville plant, which never even broke ground, was cancelled by the then-Liberal government of Dalton McGuinty on Oct. 6, 2010 followed by an announcement on Oct, 2, 2012 that a settlement between the Ontario government and TransCanada had been reached.
It is also alleged the same employee, who Jenkins said is not a member of the executive, had shares in other companies that did business with the OPA, all of which is contrary to the OPA’s Code of Conduct.
Jenkins said it was the employee who first approached the OPA to warn the agency to expect these allegations and then OPA legal division did in fact receive a letter from a complainant spelling out the allegations. She added that OPA chief executive officer Colin Andersen was made aware of the letter.
She noted the OPA has a code of conduct that covers all employees, including executives.
Under the Code of Conduct, employees and members of their immediate family are precluded from having a material financial interest in energy-related companies or companies that carry out business with the OPA, she said.
The employee has been relieved of any dealings with TransCanada while the matter is under investigation.
Jenkins said it is not known when the probe will be completed, adding that the results will not be made public even when it is.
“This is a confidential human resource issue so that would not be appropriate. The OPA will, however, undertake any required actions based on the findings of the investigation,” she said.
Asked what will happen if the allegations are found to be true, Jenkins said: “That’s speculative and what we are talking about are allegations. But as above, the OPA will undertake any required actions based on the findings of the investigation.”
Bradley Hammond, a spokesperson for Energy Minister Bob Chiarelli, said the ministry was made aware of the OPA investigation in June.
“The ministry informed the minister’s office in July that the internal OPA investigation was underway. As the investigation is ongoing, we are unable to comment further at this time,” Hammond said.
The cancellations of gas plants in Oakville and Mississauga by the Liberals dogged the former Grit minority government, especially after the auditor general reported that cancelling and relocating the two plants could cost more than $1 billion over 20 years.
It is not clear how or when the employee allegedly profited from any stock transactions.
Shares in TransCanada Corp., which is also the proponent of the massive and controversial Keystone oilsands pipeline from Alberta to Texas, closed at $38.31 on the Toronto Stock Exchange on Oct. 6, 2010, the day then-energy minister Brad Duguid announced the cancellation of the Oakville power plant. That closing price was down from $38.66 the previous day.
By Sept. 24, 2012, the day then-energy minister Chris Bentley announced the cost to taxpayers of cancelling the plant and moving it to Napanee would be $40 million, the closing share price in Toronto was 44.95.
TransCanada shares closed at $44 on the Toronto exchange on Oct. 8, 2013, the day Ontario auditor general Bonnie Lysyk said closing the Oakville plant could skyrocket to $815 million, dramatically more than the $310 million the Ontario Power Authority had previously estimated.
The shares closed at $56.69 on Thursday, down 17 cents. The stock has traded between $43.94 and $63.86 in the last year.