McGuinty aide denies Liberals tried to influence Speaker after contempt ruling

Laura Miller asked during gas plant hearing to explain her recently uncovered e-mails.

Former Ontario premier Dalton McGuinty.
Photo: Premier of Ontario Photography

TORONTO — A former aide to Dalton McGuinty says officials in the former premier’s office did not try to pressure the Speaker of the Ontario legislature to change a preliminary finding of contempt against the Liberal government.

Laura Miller says e-mails saying she wanted the Speaker put “on notice” after he found a “prima facie case” of contempt against then-energy minister Chris Bentley for not releasing gas plant documents were misinterpreted.

Miller says unelected officials in McGuinty’s office felt the Progressive Conservatives were unfairly targeting Bentley, and not co-operating with the Liberals to find a solution to the issue as the Speaker had ordered.

She told the legislature’s justice committee today that taking their concerns to Speaker Dave Levac was “like calling out unfair play to a referee.”

NDP house leader Gilles Bisson fumed after the Liberal chair of the committee ruled the opposition can’t ask Miller about her emails regarding the Speaker, even though she was allowed to talk about them in her opening statement.

Tory energy critic Vic Fedeli accused Miller of lying when she said she had no correspondence on the cancelled gas plants, even though she was named or copied on over one thousand e-mails as Liberals discussed the issue.

The hearings are looking into the contempt motion, which followed the Liberals’ decision to scrap gas plants in Oakville and Mississauga at a cost of at least $585 million.

After the Speaker refused to change his ruling, McGuinty prorogued the legislature and resigned as premier, pre-empting the hearings into the cancellation of the gas plants prior to the 2011 election.

Last Friday, Ontario’s integrity watchdog said she had no jurisdiction to investigate Opposition complaints that “Liberal operatives” tried to pressure the Speaker into changing his ruling, which they said was “akin to trying to influence a judge.”

“The Commissioner’s jurisdiction under the Act deals only with the conduct of elected officials,” wrote Integrity Commissioner Lynn Morrison.

In his only comment on the issue, Levac put out a statement last week that did not deny Liberals had attempted to persuade him to change his ruling, but said he never felt undue pressure when meeting with officials from any party.

“I have never felt unable to make an informed, objective and procedurally sound decision, free of political interference,” Levac said in the statement.

“The fact that the ruling did stand should also speak for itself.”

© 2013 The Canadian Press