TORONTO – The controversy surrounding cancelled gas plants in Oakville and Mississauga that tied up all business at the Ontario legislature last fall blew up again Wednesday as the Conservatives used the first possible opportunity to revive a contempt motion.
And even though the New Democrats supported the Tories’ move to send the rare contempt motion to the Justice committee, the Conservatives still demanded Premier Kathleen Wynne agree to a second committee to study the gas plants.
The Justice committee will only look at the Liberals’ initial refusal to release all the gas plant documents, and won’t be able to examine issues around the actual cancellations of the energy projects, said PC energy critic Vic Fedeli.
“It is strictly to do with who covered up documents that were ordered by the Speaker,” said Fedeli.
“What the premier promised was a select committee to investigate the gas plant scandal. We can’t even begin to imagine why she would go back on her word to form a select committee to study the gas plants.”
The Liberals were fuming when the Tories revived the contempt motion as soon as the legislature resumed sitting Wednesday for the first time in four months.
The government said the offer of a select committee into the gas plants was no longer on the table now that the opposition parties opted for the Justice committee option on the contempt motion.
“I’ve been clear that getting to the bottom of whatever the questions are that they have, we have offered a way forward to do that, they’ve chosen not to take that,” Wynne told the legislature.
“If they really want that information, then they need to provide the opportunities for that information to come out. They’ve made a choice (but) it’s not a choice that I understand.”
It’s the same motion the Tories moved last fall, which the Liberals say blames then-energy minister Chris Bentley for withholding the documents, even though he’s no longer a member of the legislature and isn’t actually named in the contempt citation.
“I believe that it’s a personal attack on a member who worked very hard for the people of this province in every way, and he’s not here now,” said Wynne.
“I think that there is a mean-spiritedness to this.”
Government house leader John Milloy insisted he and Bentley made honest mistakes last September when they told the legislature all the documents had been released, only to find another 20,000 pages a month later.
The Conservatives aren’t buying that line, and feel the Liberals intentionally misled the legislature to hide documents ordered by the Speaker, which is why they immediately revived the contempt motion, said Fedeli.
“About a dozen (Liberals) said you have all the documents, but the fact of the matter is we allege they knew we did not,” he said.
“So they spoke with statements that misled the legislature.”
The contempt motion had been slated to go to a committee last October when Dalton McGuinty suddenly prorogued the legislature — hours before committee hearings into the gas plant were to start — and announced his resignation as premier.
Speaker Dave Levac ruled Wednesday that prorogation did not negate his original finding that there was a “prima facie case of privilege” that should be examined by a committee.
The Tories say their privileges were violated by the Liberals’ initial refusal to release all of the documents on the cancellation of the gas plants, which cost taxpayers at least $230 million.
NDP house leader Gilles Bisson said it seemed to him that it was part of the Liberals’ strategy to try to block the release of documents that may have been embarrassing to the government.