Ontario’s Opposition is threatening to file a second contempt motion against the Liberal government even if a justice committee is allowed to look into the so-called “Liberal plot” to influence the Speaker of the legislature.
“I don’t see any reason at this point to drop the contempt motion,” Progressive Conservative house leader Jim Wilson said in an interview Thursday.
The Tories will file the motion Sept. 9, the day the legislature resumes, because the justice committee was not allowed to ask about e-mails showing senior Liberals talked about getting Speaker Dave Levac to change a preliminary finding of contempt against the government.
Premier Kathleen Wynne expressed “surprise” that the questions had been ruled out of order, but wouldn’t commit to agreeing to broaden the mandate of the justice committee and said it would be up to the three party house leaders to resolve the issue.
“I had fully expected that those questions could be asked,” Ms. Wynne told reporters.
“We’ve been as open as possible in terms of providing information, tens of thousands of documents have been provided to the committee, and the house leaders will need to talk about this next piece.”
Mr. Wilson said Ms. Wynne knew questions about the e-mails regarding the Speaker would be blocked at the committee, which is holding hearings into the Liberals’ decisions to cancel gas plants in Oakville and Mississauga at a cost of at least $585-million.
“I don’t think she’s telling the whole truth,” he said. “She would have known it was coming, and she’s acting as if it’s a surprise today.”
The New Democrats said Ms. Wynne should simply have agreed the Liberals would move a motion in the legislature to expand the justice committee’s mandate to allow the questions about attempts to pressure the Speaker.
“All the premier had to do today is say, ‘yes, I will tell my house leader to expand the scope of the committee,’ and that would be the end of it,” said NDP House Leader Gilles Bisson.
Recently released e-mails show unelected Liberals in former premier Dalton McGuinty’s office planned to put the Speaker “on notice” about his preliminary finding last fall that then-energy minister Chris Bentley was in contempt of the legislature.
One Liberal operative was sent to meet with Mr. Levac, but the Speaker never changed his ruling that there was a “prima facie” case of contempt against Mr. Bentley for not releasing documents on the cancelled gas plants as requested by a committee.
Debates on contempt motions preempt all other business at the legislature, including the work of committees, but Mr. Wilson said the Tories will push ahead even if the committee is given permission to ask questions about the attempts to pressure Mr. Levac.
“We’ll still pursue the contempt, but what may happen is the Speaker may say ‘look, you’ve already got the committee’s mandate expanded, I’m not going to do another separate inquiry as you ask,“’ said Mr. Wilson. “That may be what he rules, but I don’t see any reason at this point to drop the contempt (motion).”
The often nasty debate on the original contempt motion was one of the reasons cited by Mr. McGuinty when he prorogued the legislature and announced his resignation last October, delaying the hearings into the gas plants until Ms. Wynne was picked as his successor.
Ms. Wynne said she would not follow Mr. McGuinty’s lead and prorogue the legislature to avoid another heated contempt debate, nor would the minority government trigger a snap election.
“I’m not in any way planning for a fall election,” she said. “We have a lot of work to do and we’re going to get at it.”
The opposition parties say the Liberals cancelled the two gas plants to save seats in the 2011 election, when they were reduced to a minority government, and deliberately tried to cover up the true cost of their decisions.