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Opening comments:  More at the end.

May 11 2000, Thur. - by Richard Mackie, Queen's Park Bureau

Harris to blame for ORC's woes: McGuinty
Premier tells Liberal Leader to stop making false charges as two trade jabs in legislature

Toronto Premier Mike Harris must take the blame for the questionable land deals and other problem contracts at the Ontario Realty Corp. because his government pressed the agency to sell some of its real estate, Liberal Leader Dalton McGuinty told the legislature yesterday.

But Mr. Harris told the Liberal Leader to stop making false charges and tarnishing reputations.

"You will make allegations and statements in here that you won't repeat outside only because you have privilege in here to say whatever you want," Mr. Harris said. Comments by MPPs in the legislature cannot be the subject of lawsuits because of parliamentary privilege.

Mr. Harris used a report in The Globe and Mail yesterday to back his contention that Mr. McGuinty is making false charges. The report said that a land deal described by Mr. McGuinty as a profitable land flip has not yet resulted in a profit because of the costs of upgrading the land.

"I actually trust The Globe and Mail more than I do your facts," Mr. Harris said.

"The Globe and Mail indicated that this was a piece of property that the ORC had been directed by the government to sell under the Liberals. They couldn't sell it. It was a piece of property that had been directed to be sold by the NDP. They couldn't sell it," Mr. Harris said.

"It was a piece of property that couldn't be sold over a period of 10 years. Did we want the piece of property sold, as you did? Yes, and the piece of property was sold, according to The Globe and Mail, at good value for the taxpayers," the Premier added.

Mr. McGuinty said that the Premier is evading his responsibility for the evolving scandal at the ORC. Forensic auditors and police are looking into deals going back 15 years.

"Ultimately in all of these matters the buck stops with you," he told the Premier.

The forensic auditors have twice gone to court to get permission to seize the records of three former employees of the ORC and of almost two dozen people and companies that had contracts with the agency. In sworn statements to the courts, the auditors have said there is evidence of a scheme of "kickbacks" and "bid-rigging."

Mr. McGuinty said the Premier must accept the blame for the problems at the ORC.

"You promised during the course of the [1995 election] campaign to sell off taxpayer lands. After the election, you directed ORC officials to sell off taxpayer lands," Mr. McGuinty said.

"We know that major political contributors to your party have made millions of dollars through land flips. Premier, why have you refused to fire this minister [Management Board Chairman Chris Hodgson] who is responsible for what's going on at the ORC today?" the Liberal Leader asked.

Mr. Harris defended Mr. Hodgson. "I'm surprised to hear [Mr. McGuinty] stand in his place and say [Mr. Hodgson] is at the bottom of the scandal when there's not a shred of evidence to support any of that," the Premier said.

Outside the legislature, Mr. Hodgson complained that Mr. McGuinty is abusing his protection from lawsuits in the legislature.

"He rhymes off a whole litany of accusations that damage the reputations, not only of myself, but of people in the private sector who have had transactions with the Ontario Realty Corp. I think that's irresponsible," Mr. Hodgson said.

"Every day they bring forward stuff that clearly isn't accurate and then get a full day's coverage [in the media]. That promotes their cause of throw as much nonsense on the wall, hope that some of it sticks, and in the meantime you've damaged not only my reputation but innocent parties' reputations as well."

Both Mr. Hodgson and Mr. Harris were clearly very agitated when questioned about the ORC.

At one point the Premier even invoked the name of Mr. McGuinty's father, a highly respected MPP who died 10 years ago. "I think your father would be embarrassed to see you stand here day after day in the gutter ruining the reputation of your father," he told the Liberal Leader.

Pressured by Speaker Gary Carr, Mr. Harris withdrew the comment, accepting that it wasn't in keeping with the rules of the legislature.


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