The Ontario government weighed the pros and cons of prorogation two weeks before former premier Dalton McGuinty shut down the legislature last October, including committee hearings into the costly cancellation of two gas-fired power plants.
But Mr. McGuinty did not have all business grind to a halt until after his government released a second tranche of documents related to the power plants, a legislative committee was told.
Laura Miller, deputy chief of staff to Mr. McGuinty, testified on Tuesday that her former boss began talking about prorogation after the documents were released last Oct. 13. Three days later, Mr. McGuinty prorogued the legislature.
She was responding to questions from New Democratic MPP Peter Tabuns about an e-mail addressed to her from David Phillips, the chief of staff to the Liberal House Leader last Oct. 1, saying proroguing the legislature would delay committee hearings into two scandals dominating the political agenda – the gas plants and the Ornge air-ambulance service.
“No doubt there is considerable downside to reconcile, most notably the blowback that will result in the first couple weeks (i.e. the government’s running and hiding, an attack on parliamentary democracy, etc.),” Mr. Phillips says in his e-mail.
Ms. Miller played down the correspondence, saying Mr. Phillips was “entitled to his opinion” and that she did not respond to him. “I think we all know that prorogation was not going to stop this from bubbling back up,” she testified.
Most of Ms. Miller’s time before the committee was dominated by complaints from the opposition over a ruling by the chairman of the committee, banning them from questioning her about attempts to pressure Dave Levac, the Speaker of the legislature, into changing his mind on a gas-plant ruling.
Liberal MPP Shafiq Qaadri ruled that any questions about the process by which the Speaker reached his ruling are off limits to the committee. As a result, committee members could not ask Ms. Miller about an e-mail she wrote, saying her fellow deputy, Dave Gene, “is putting [the Speaker] on notice that we need better here.”
Mr. Levac, a Liberal MPP, ruled last September that there is evidence then-energy minister Chris Bentley breached his privileges by refusing to release gas-plant documents to a legislative committee. He did not change the ruling after a discussion with Mr. Gene. The ruling left Mr. Bentley facing a rare contempt of Parliament censure.
Progressive Conservative MPP Vic Fedeli accused the governing Liberals of deliberately shutting down the committee’s investigation into that angle. Mr. Tabuns said the ruling makes a mockery of pledges by Mr. McGuinty’s successor, Kathleen Wynne, to be more open and transparent.
A spokeswoman for Ms. Wynne said the opposition’s accusations are “completely baseless.” Committee chairs, she said, are independent from party politics and they make their rulings in consultation with the clerk, an independent officer of the legislature.