Disagreement is heating up over an ethanol refinery to be built in Oshawa, with the city’s council calling for an investigation into the relationship between the federally controlled Oshawa Port Authority, federal Finance Minister Jim Flaherty and FarmTech Energy Corp., the company building the plant.

The port authority approved the controversial $200-million project for Oshawa’s waterfront in a closed-door meeting Aug. 9.

At a special meeting last week, council fired back. Mayor John Henry was directed to ask that the federal ethics commissioner investigate the appointments of the board of directors and chair of the port authority, and the relationship to Flaherty and FarmTech regarding the decision to build the plant.

“The group that now makes up the port authority has far too close a relationship to Minister Flaherty,” said Councillor Nancy Diamond, who seconded the motion. “There are just too many connections that need to be questioned.”

Oshawa Port Authority Chair Gary Valcour stepped down this year as president of the Conservative riding association in Whitby-Oshawa, Flaherty’s riding. Chris Kluczweski, another port director, also served on the board of the riding association, as did Tim O’Connor, the brother of FarmTech president Dan O’Connor and a former member of the company’s board.

Valcour called the city council motion “disappointing,” saying opponents have had ample opportunity to air their concerns about the project.

“I would have thought it was beneath them,” he said. “I’m at a loss for words as to why this has any place in the discussion.”

Five of the seven port authority board members are federal appointees, four of them nominated by port users. The city and province each have one appointee, with the province’s spot currently vacant.

In a statement, Flaherty’s spokesperson, Chisholm Pothier, said all appointees are well-qualified.

“In any community there will be overlapping relationships between local representatives of government, business and the community. Those relationships do not prevent qualified people from being appointed to government roles,” he said.

FarmTech says the plant will create 50 full-time and 300 construction jobs and inject millions of dollars into the region’s economy.

President Dan O’Connor rejected any allegations of cronyism, calling last week’s motion “a baseless allegation made by this council in a desperate attempt to make themselves look like victims in all this.”

The company has had an option to lease the land since 2007, he said, before the port authority was created earlier this year. The proposal underwent a 4 1/2-year federal environmental assessment process, he added.

Henry said the approval process lacked transparency: “They’ve had two meetings. In their second meeting they passed a $200 million project.”

According to Henry, the site is next to a “provincially significant” 123-hectare coastal wetland and a family-friendly park. He added he’s not opposed to the plant, just its proposed location; he has said it should be built 60 kilometres north in Brock Township, a willing host.

Council also passed a motion that, among other things, asked the port authority to hold a public meeting at the General Motors Centre.

Valcour said a meeting will be held next month, but stressed it will be an information session, not a debate about the port authority’s decision. The plant is expected to be completed by 2014.

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