The Speaker of the Ontario legislature has responded to e-mails revealing that advisers to former premier Dalton McGuinty tried to get him to change one of his rulings, saying he has never bowed to “political interference.”
Speaker Dave Levac did not comment specifically on the e-mails released to a legislative committee last Friday, in which senior Liberals discuss their plans to exert behind-the-scenes pressure on him to change his ruling on the production of documents involving the cancellations of two gas-fired power plants.
But he made it clear that no amount of lobbying has ever influenced one of his decisions. The fact that his ruling on the gas-plant documents remained intact speaks for itself, Mr. Levac said in a statement on Tuesday.
“I have never felt unable to make an informed, objective and procedurally sound decision, free of political interference,” he said.
Mr. Levac, a Liberal MPP, ruled last September that there is evidence then-energy minister Chris Bentley breached his privileges by refusing to release the gas-plant documents to a legislative committee four months earlier. The ruling left Mr. Bentley facing a rare contempt of Parliament censure.
It was Don Guy, a member of Mr. McGuinty’s inner circle, who said the Speaker needed to change his ruling.
“Speaker needs to follow up on his prima facie finding and change his mind,” Mr. Guy, a former chief of staff to Mr. McGuinty and manager of all three of his successful election campaigns, wrote in an e-mail dated Sept. 21, 2012.
Laura Miller, Mr. McGuinty’s then-deputy chief of staff, responded that same day in an e-mail to Mr. Guy that Dave Gene, a fellow deputy, “is putting [the Speaker] on notice that we need better here.”
It is not known what happened at their meeting, but whatever pressure Mr. Gene might have exerted did not sway the Speaker. Ms. Miller reported to Mr. Guy that “DG isn’t confident coming out of his chat w [sic] Levac.”
Ms. Miller and Mr. Guy both said on Monday that they felt it was important to complain about the unfairness of the Progressive Conservatives pushing ahead with a contempt finding against Mr. Bentley even after the Liberals had agreed to release the gas-plant documents.
The Progressive Conservatives on Tuesday asked the province’s Integrity Commissioner to investigate attempts by senior staff in Mr. McGuinty’s office to influence the Speaker and interfere with the impartiality of his office.
“We are of the opinion that an unprecedented breach has occurred,” Tory MPP Vic Fedeli said in a letter to Integrity Commissioner Lynn Morrison. “It is unacceptable and inappropriate for unelected political staff to act in order to ‘change the mind’ of a Speaker of the House.”
Mr. Fedeli acknowledged to reporters that the Tories are in “unchartered territory” in asking the Integrity Commissioner to get involved. Usually, he said, the Speaker would review such actions.
NDP House Leader Gilles Bisson said his party plans to call Mr. Gene and Ms. Miller to testify at legislative committee hearings into the cancelled gas plants.
“They were trying to obstruct the parliamentary process and bully the Speaker to change his ruling,” Mr. Bisson said. “That’s pretty serious stuff, and akin to somebody going to a judge and trying to influence a judge on a decision.”