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With a majority, contrite Wynne strategy toward gas-plants mess may be history

In the final Question Period of a summer sitting that was all about tying up loose ends from before last month's Ontario election, the Opposition Progressive Conservatives had one last bit of unfinished business on their minds.

Before the campaign, they repeatedly noted, the justice committee investigating the gas-plants scandal had been set to hear from Peter Faist and Laura Miller. With committees to begin sitting again in the months ahead, would MPPs finally get a chance to interview two people central to the alleged destruction of electronic documents during Dalton McGuinty's final days in office?

It was a good question, for which Premier Kathleen Wynne did not have a particularly encouraging response. As she stressed the importance of the committee getting on with writing its report, and pointed out that more than 70 witnesses had already appeared before it, it was plain that with new control afforded by their return to majority government, her Liberals have no intention of letting the legislative investigation drag on any longer.

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Anyone who watched the testimony of an endless parade of former staffers and bureaucrats, which often seemed mostly an excuse for opposition grandstanding, would have a hard time arguing for a lot more of it.

But it is a special case, the one involving Mr. Faist and Ms. Miller, and Ms. Wynne's apparent unwillingness to make an exception for them is somewhat at odds with the contrition for the scandal that she displayed on the campaign trail.

For all the time they spent on who knew what when about the costly relocation of power plants, MPPs never got much chance to dig into the allegation that while Ms. Miller was deputy chief of staff to Mr. McGuinty, her boyfriend was given improper access to staff computers so he could wipe files from them.

That's because, although it turned out to be the focus of a provincial police investigation that was triggered by the more well-known aspects of the gas-plant saga, Mr. Faist's alleged access only became public knowledge through the unsealing of police documents in March.

As police pursue a breach of trust charge against Mr. McGuinty's then-chief-of-staff David Livingston, Mr. Faist and Ms. Miller are not under investigation themselves.

But their version of events would be essential to any attempt to understand what exactly went on, and to make recommendations for how new rules or processes could prevent it from happening again.

And absent further committee work, it's an open question whether any further light will be shed on the alleged file-deletion.

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It's not altogether surprising that Ms. Wynne is willing to live with that risk. Having spent her first 15 months in office perpetually on the defensive because of what happened under her predecessor, she wants to finally control the agenda.

As evidenced by the surprise appearance of Mr. McGuinty at the recent Speech from the Throne, she is also trying to avoid any lasting tensions within her party, of the sort that could be created by putting her predecessor's senior officials on the hot seat. And rare is the politician who would allow a spotlight to be shone on their government's baggage, when it could be easily avoided.

Ms. Wynne, though, just led the Liberals to a remarkable victory in part by presenting herself as a very rare politician indeed – a straight shooter with a genuine commitment to running a more open government than the one she inherited.

Her response on Thursday would seem to suggest that only goes so far.

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About the Author
Political Feature Writer

Adam Radwanski is The Globe and Mail's political feature writer. More

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