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TORONTO — A special interest group is planning to launch a campaign to “dupe” the public about the true cost of the government’s push for green energy, Opposition Leader Tim Hudak charged Tuesday.
A confidential document obtained by the Tories advises a group of unnamed green energy developers on how to promote the governing Liberals’ policy and expedite lucrative government contracts for renewable energy.
The Oct. 18 document, drafted by consulting firm Sussex Strategy Group., lays out a plan — complete with a $300,000 initial budget — to change the channel on the current green energy debate, which is largely focused on cost.
Sussex notes that green energy is likely to be a “wedge issue” in the upcoming election, with the Conservatives supporting a move away from renewable energy.
It also advises that it will be “critical to ‘confuse’ the issue” of renewable energy, for the public and media, in an attempt to shift the focus away from price to include things like jobs and clean air.
The document provides details for a media campaign to “talk past ‘noisy activists”‘ and target areas where there’s opposition to renewable energy projects, which includes spending $150,000 on ads.
“This deck contains evidence of an active push to form a special interest coalition intent on defending the McGuinty government’s costly energy experiments, including massive handouts to industry,” Hudak said.
“The Ontario government and its agencies should clearly not be associated with a group whose sole mandate is to try to dupe the public.”
Sussex confirmed it pitched the proposal to a “broad group” — not just its clients — that included people involved in health and the environment to expand the debate about green energy. But it wouldn’t name names.
Advising that group to “confuse” the green energy issue was a mistake, said Sussex spokesman Brett James.
“I think it was a poor choice of words, because the effort is actually to provide clarity to the debate that right now is only about price, and to make sure that the benefits of clean energy are reflected in the debate as well,” he said.
Key dates for government approvals of its yet-to-be released energy plan that were contained in the document were “pure speculation,” James added.
Energy Minister Brad Duguid flatly dismissed Opposition suggestions that Sussex may have had an inside track on the government’s energy plan.
The government had nothing to do with the proposal and wasn’t even aware that it existed until the Tories distributed it to reporters, he said.
“But I think it’s important for Ontarians to know what’s at stake here,” Duguid added.
“I’m not surprised that you would have those that are involved in building the green energy hub that we’re building here in Ontario concerned about where Tim Hudak wants to take it.”
Sussex, which has offices in Toronto and Ottawa, has seven active lobbyists on the Ontario registry. Its client list includes the Electricity Distributors Association of Ontario and several renewable energy companies, such as FarmTech Energy, Recurrent Energy and Interwind Corp.