PLANT

Ont. Liberals pressured Speaker to change gas plant ruling

E-mails show McGuinty’s office wanted energy minister Bentley contempt ruling quashed.


TORONTO — Senior officials in former Ontario premier Dalton McGuinty’s office conspired to pressure the Speaker of the legislature to change a preliminary ruling that found the Liberal government in contempt of parliament, the opposition parties charged.

The Progressive Conservatives and the NDP said the latest batch of e-mails released on two cancelled gas plants shows the Liberals tried to convince Speaker Dave Levac to change his preliminary ruling that then energy minister Chris Bentley was in contempt for not releasing all the documents on the energy projects.

“We have an attempt to intimidate the Speaker and have him change his ruling, which is very serious,” said PC critic Lisa MacLeod. “This is not only appalling, it is completely inappropriate and unacceptable in a democracy.”

The New Democrats said the Liberals clearly feel they don’t have to follow the rules the same as everyone else.

“What these guys were doing in the premier’s office, and Liberal operatives like Don Guy and others, were essentially trying to bully the Speaker, and that’s just not on,” said NDP house leader Gilles Bisson. “It’s pretty shocking that a premier’s office would go to that extent to be able to get their way.”

One e-mail from longtime Liberal campaign chair Don Guy made it clear the party wanted the contempt ruling quashed.

“Speaker needs to follow up on his prima facie finding and change his mind,” Guy wrote in an e-mail Sept. 21, 2012, to senior staff in McGuinty’s office and to the former premier’s brother, Brendan McGuinty, who worked on the election campaign.

However, Guy said that his “interest was in avoiding another unnecessary $150 million election” only a year after the last one.

“I offered my analysis that the only way to do that was for the Speaker to change his ruling after reflection,” Guy said in an e-mail to The Canadian Press.

“Otherwise, we were headed for a tragic and costly outcome due to the partisan witch hunt of the opposition parties.”

Another just-released e-mail from Laura Miller, a policy adviser in McGuinty’s office, suggested the Liberals had staffer Dave Gene pressure Levac in some unspecified way to alter his ruling.

“Dave (Gene) is putting the member from Brant on notice that we need better here,” Miller wrote.

Miller said she wanted to put the Speaker on notice that the Tories were not co-operating and that Chris Bentley deserved better.

Levac did not return calls seeking comment, but he apparently rebuffed Gene’s efforts to convince him to change the ruling.

“DG reports he isn’t confident coming out of his chat with Levac,” Miller wrote in a follow-up note one day after the original e-mails.

The NDP questioned what the Liberals meant by putting the Speaker on notice.

“Notice of what,” wondered Bisson. “Notice that he may not get help in the next election? Notice that there may be some other ramifications for him not doing what they wanted him to do? Who knows what that means?”

Putting pressure on the Speaker to change his ruling raises serious ethical and legal questions, added MacLeod, who noted there were still more gas plant documents to come from the Liberals.

“This is so elaborate it’s like peeling an onion except it’s a never-ending onion, there are so many layers to this betrayal of the taxpayers,” she said.

No one in the premier’s office would be allowed to put “any undue pressure” on the impartial Speaker of the legislature to influence his decisions, Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne said July 31.

“I would not countenance, I would not tolerate that kind of pressure being put on the Speaker by staff,” she said.

But she won’t stop them from talking to Speaker Dave Levac, she said.

“People talk to the Speaker all the time,” Wynne said. “The Speaker needs to talk to all parties about the workings of the house.”

Levac issued a statement July 30 saying members of all three parties meet with him “from time-to-time” to discuss a range of issues.

“While I believe it is important to consider the various sides of an issue, I have never felt unable to make an informed, objective and procedurally sound decision, free of political interference,” he wrote.

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

The Liberals spent at least $585 million to cancel planned gas plants in Oakville and Mississauga prior to the 2011 election in what the opposition parties called an expensive seat-saver program.

© 2013 The Canadian Press