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Ontario Liberals want Tory MPP held in contempt in finance-document feud

Ontario Progressive Conservative MPP Vic Fedeli speaks in Toronto on Feb. 21, 2013.


The Ontario Liberals want Progressive Conservative finance critic Vic Fedeli held in contempt of Parliament after they accused him of releasing the contents of confidential government documents in the legislature.

But in a raucous Question Period Thursday, Mr. Fedeli tried to turn the tables on the government by charging the Liberals are trying to cover up the documents because they contain embarrassing information about the Liberals' difficulty balancing the budget.

The tussle concerns a stash of Finance Department papers requisitioned by a legislative committee. Under the committee's rules, some of the documents can be made public, while others – which contain "commercially sensitive information" – may be viewed only by MPPs.

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On Tuesday, Mr. Fedeli quoted from one paper that listed Liberal plans for eliminating the deficit. One section said the province would not provide any money for public sector pay hikes, effectively enforcing a wage freeze. The Liberals maintain this section was supposed to be kept confidential and called Thursday for Speaker Dave Levac to start contempt procedures against Mr. Fedeli.

Mr. Levac reserved his decision.

Mr. Fedeli, for his part, went on the offensive. Throughout Question Period, he read other passages from the documents, including briefing notes in which senior civil servants told Premier Kathleen Wynne and her ministers that the Liberals are on track to miss their deficit reduction targets.

"You want to keep this information from being made public, but you can't. These are public documents that you want quashed," Mr. Fedeli said, adding later: "You get caught and you attempt to drag me through the mud."

Government House Leader John Milloy argued that some documents must be kept confidential because the information in them could hurt the government's bottom line by revealing its negotiating position when it is in talks with companies or unions. The legislative committee that demanded the documents even agreed to this, he said.

"Releasing them could negatively impact our business environment and job creation, or hurt taxpayers," he said. "We released thousands of documents, intending to make them public, but that doesn't apply to those documents that could hurt private commercial interests or taxpayers."

If Mr. Levac finds Mr. Fedeli may have committed contempt of Parliament, a legislative committee would investigate his conduct and report back to the House, which would then have to vote to find him in contempt.

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Outside the legislature, both opposition parties said that, if they ever form government, they would not attempt to keep finance documents confidential.

"I would turn over any documents any committee had the right to see and then I wouldn't fight about it after," Mr. Fedeli said.

Added New Democrat Leader Andrea Horwath: "People want to see a government more transparent and more open … What makes that information sensitive? It's a reality that people should be aware of."

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