Business at the Ontario legislature could grind to a halt again next month if the government won’t allow questions on Liberal attempts to intimidate the Speaker, the Opposition warned Wednesday.
The Progressive Conservatives plan to file the contempt motion Sept. 9, the first of the day of the fall session, because the Liberal chair of a committee refused to allow questions about what they call a “Liberal plot” to intimidate Speaker Dave Levac.
“My point of privilege is based upon the simple fact that members of the legislative assembly of Ontario should be free from any attempts at intimidation, especially the Speaker,” said PC house leader Jim Wilson.
“If a citizen of this country attempted to intimidate a judge in the same manner as the Liberals attempted to influence the Speaker, they would be thrown in jail.”
The complaint stems from emails that show unelected Liberals in former premier Dalton McGuinty’s office talked about putting Levac “on notice” after he ruled there was a “prima facie” case of contempt against the government for not releasing all documents on two cancelled gas plants, as requested by a committee.
Shafiq Qaadri, the Liberal chair of the justice committee, which is holding public hearings into the cancelled gas plants in Oakville and Mississauga, ruled Tuesday that all questions about emails related to the Speaker were out of order.
“The issue here is not whether the Speaker was intimidated, it is about whether an attempt was made, ” Wilson said.
“We can’t have people attempting to strong-arm members, whether it’s an individual member or in this case the Speaker. That’s just not done. It’s not allowed.”
The NDP were also angry at Qaadri’s ruling and warned they too were prepared to file a contempt motion, but said the debate could be avoided if Premier Kathleen Wynne allows the justice committee to ask questions about emails concerning the Speaker.
“The premier was clear on byelection night that she wants to do things differently, she wants transparency and wants to get to the bottom of this,” said New Democrat house leader Gilles Bisson.
“If there are ways of doing this that doesn’t hold up House time, why not go that way?”
Government house leader John Milloy wouldn’t say if the Liberals would broaden the justice committee’s mandate to allow questions about attempts to influence the Speaker in order to avoid the debate on Wilson’s point of privilege.
“We can sit down and talk about how to move forward,” Milloy told reporters.
Milloy also suggested Wilson’s contempt motion was an attempt to distract the media from challenges to Tim Hudak’s leadership of the PCs.
“I realize they have some internal problems right now and they’re trying to have a bit of a side show on some of this,” he said.
“We need to put aside some of the mischief that’s going on, which I do think it to try to divert attention away from some problems.”
The often bitter debate on the original contempt motion last fall ground all legislative business to a halt, including all committees, until McGuinty prorogued the house and resigned as premier. McGuinty cited the nasty tone of the contempt debate as one of the reasons he shut down the legislature.
Even though debate on another contempt motion would again bring all other business to a halt, Wilson said there’s no more important issue for the legislature to deal with.
“The public has a right to know if unelected Liberal operatives threatened the Speaker and attempted to hijack Ontario’s democracy,” he said.