LISTOWEL, Ont. - The opposition parties can take all the shots they want, Premier Dalton McGuinty said Thursday, as long as people know he would never betray their trust by giving special favours to those who make donations to the Liberal Party.
For the second day in a row, the New Democrats demanded answers about a land transfer they claim rewarded developers who paid $5,000 each to attend a private dinner with McGuinty. They charge legislation that followed the dinner increased the value of the developers' lands by about $30 million.
McGuinty wasn't in the legislature Thursday, but accused the NDP of playing politics with the issue when he responded during a local announcement in this rural southwestern Ontario community.
"They're doing what they do, and you guys gotta write the stories, but I've been doing this for 20 years now, and I hope that people get the sense that I wouldn't do that stuff," McGuinty said.
"That would be to betray the confidence of Ontarians."
Voters deserve to know who attended the May 2008 dinner and what was discussed, said NDP Leader Andrea Horwath.
"The average Ontarian who's worried about their ER closing or losing a child-care space or not being able to get a job - they can't pay $5,000 a plate to have the ear of the premier and of his top cabinet ministers," she said.
"So who was there? What was being talked about? These are pretty basic questions that I think the government needs to come clean on."
McGuinty declined to say if the developers lobbied him at the dinner for the legislation.
"I can't recall what we talked about at a dinner last week, let alone a dinner that we had two years ago," he said.
The NDP say members of the East Moratorium Land Owners, a registered lobby group, met with McGuinty and several cabinet ministers at a private home in Barrie in May 2008. Elections Ontario records show about 20 developers paid $5,000 each to attend.
Last December, the Liberal government passed legislation to transfer nearly 1,000 acres of land the developers own in Innisfil to the city of Barrie - part of a larger land transfer - ending a development freeze on their lands in the process.
The government acted on the recommendations of a provincial facilitator who was trying to mediate the dispute between the city of Barrie and Innisfil, said McGuinty.
"We relied on the independent advice of a facilitator," he said. "We did what we thought was the best thing to do to serve the public interest in the circumstances, simple as that."
The NDP said the developers paid as little as $25,000 an acre for the lands in question, which have been listed at $75,000 an acre since the bill became law, even before they are developed.
The best way to clear the air is to release the facilitator's report, which the government still hasn't done, Horwath said.
"We still don't have the answers to those questions," she said.
"Put the report on the table, blow the lid off this thing. Come clean and let people know exactly what is in that report."