Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne is demanding $2-million in damages from her Progressive Conservative opponents after they accused her of taking part in the destruction of documents in her predecessor’s office, called her “corrupt” and compared her to Richard Nixon on Twitter.
The unusual lawsuit comes just ahead of a crucial budget – which the Liberals announced Tuesday they will table May 1 – and a possible spring election.
Ms. Wynne’s statement of claim alleges PC Leader Tim Hudak, MPP Lisa MacLeod and the party’s fundraising arm all libelled the Premier. None of the allegations have been tested in court.
“The defendants acted out of malice … with the deliberate intention of discrediting [Ms. Wynne’s] reputation and subjecting her to public scandal, ridicule and contempt,” it reads.
An Ontario Provincial Police document, unsealed last month, accuses former premier Dalton McGuinty’s chief of staff of getting an IT expert to wipe clean the hard drives of computers shortly before Ms. Wynne took power last year, potentially erasing documents connected to the costly cancellations of two gas-fired power plants.
Police found no evidence Ms. Wynne was involved. But at a news conference on March 27, Mr. Hudak charged Ms. Wynne “oversaw and possibly ordered the criminal destruction of documents.” Some of these statements were later repeated on the PC party website.
Then, on Twitter, Ms. MacLeod likened Ms. Wynne’s denial of her involvement to Mr. Nixon’s famous “I’m not a crook” comment months before he resigned over the Watergate scandal. That tweet, the statement of claim says, implies the Premier “is as deserving of hatred and contempt as Richard Nixon.”
Ms. Wynne repeatedly asked Mr. Hudak and Ms. MacLeod to apologize. While both subsequently softened their language, they have refused to take back what they said.
In an e-mail, Ms. Wynne’s spokeswoman said she would donate any money she gets from the lawsuit to charity. Her legal bill is being footed by the Liberal Party.
On Tuesday, Ms. MacLeod described the lawsuit as “frivolous.”
“[The government] should never resort to the courtroom to silence its critics,” she said.
Finance Minister Charles Sousa suggested the opposition’s attacks went beyond the normal heated partisan rhetoric, necessitating a strong response.
“She’s being attacked unfairly and unduly by the opposition members without facts,” he said.
The Liberals control only a minority of seats in the legislature and need the support of at least one other party to pass a budget and avoid a spring election. The PCs have already said they will vote the government down, while the NDP has remained non-committal.
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