Led by Mississauga Mayor Hazel McCallion, concerned residents were at Queen's Park to express alarm over a proposed 850-megawatt gas-fired plant for either Clarkson or Oakville.
"As mayor, I am not prepared to gamble with the health of the people of the Clarkson area, so this plant must be stopped," she said, noting there are already air-quality problems in the area.
McCallion, Mississauga's chief magistrate since 1978, had some counsel for Smitherman, Ontario's energy minister, as he gets set to run for mayor of Toronto next year.
"Well, I would think as mayor he would I would hope take the stand that I'm taking when health is an issue."
Dorothy Tomiuk, of the Mississauga Residents' Associations Network, a coalition of 25 citizens' groups, put it more bluntly.
"Ironically, for a man in his possible mayoral position, George is surrounding Toronto with a ring of fire," said Tomiuk, referring to the possibility of seven gas-fired plants throughout Greater Toronto.
Smitherman was in Niagara Falls and unavailable for comment, but Environment Minister John Gerretsen defended the government's actions on a $1 billion plant the Ontario Power Authority says is needed to meet electricity demand.
"We need energy; we all turn the lights on at night, including the people of Mississauga and Peel," said Gerretsen.
The minister reminded critics that the Liberals "have improved the air-quality standards in this province by 57 new standards since we became the government."
"I can assure you that any plant that is going to be built is going to meet the high air-quality standards that we have in the province of Ontario," he said.
Progressive Conservative Leader Tim Hudak said the confusion over the power plant is an example of why Smitherman should officially announce soon his candidacy to succeed David Miller.
"I suspect (Premier) Dalton McGuinty is having a good heart-to-heart with Mr. Smitherman to see what his plans are," said Hudak.
"Heck, if George is going to run for mayor, God bless him but he's got to fish or cut bait," he said.
NDP Leader Andrea Horwath said Smitherman "needs to take responsibility for his current job. That's where he should be focusing."
The OPA is studying four sites for the plant three in southwest Mississauga and one in Oakville and a decision is expected soon.