McGuinty aide denies Liberals tried to influence speaker
Laura Miller, a senior McGuinty adviser, testifies at gas plant hearing
One of Dalton McGuinty's former aides testified Tuesday that Liberal officials did not try to pressure the Speaker of the Ontario legislature to change the preliminary finding of contempt against the Liberal government.
Laura Miller said that emails claiming 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 distorted.
"Much in that quickly written email exchange has been misinterpreted and torqued," Miller said during testimony.
According to Miller, officials in McGuinty's office thought that Bentley was being unfairly targeted by the Progressive Conservatives — who were also not co-operating with the Liberals to find a solution to the issue that was ordered by the Speaker.
She told the legislature's justice committee Tuesday that taking their concerns to Speaker Dave Levac was "like calling out unfair play to a referee."
The Liberal chair of the committee ruled that opposition members can't ask Miller about her emails regarding the Speaker — even though she spoke about them in her opening statement, which angered NDP house leader Gilles Bisson.
"We've got a Liberal chair who says we can`t ask questions about that subject...it leaves the question, who gave that order?," Bisson said, questioning Premier Kathleen Wynne's promise of transparency during the inquiry.
PC energy critic Vic Fedeli accused Miller of lying when she said she had no correspondence on the cancelled gas plants — even thought she was named and copied on more than 1,000 emails on the issue.
The hearings are examining the contempt motion, which followed the Liberals' decision to scrap gas plants in Oakville and Mississauga at a cost of at least $585 million.
McGuinty prorogued the legislature after the Speaker refused to change his ruling. McGuinty then resigned as premier, which preempted 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.
Levac put out a statement last week that did not deny Liberals had attempted to persuade him to change his ruling, but added that he never felt pressure when meeting with officials from any of the parties. It was his only comment on the matter so far.
"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."
With files from The Canadian Press