Wynne 'surprised' questions denied at gas plant hearings
Subject of influencing the speaker not addressed at hearings, opposition angered
Premier Kathleen Wynne admits she was "surprised" that members of the justice committee were prevented from asking questions about an alleged effort by senior Liberals to influence the Speaker last year.
The committee has been holding hearings for months into the cancellation of the gas plants in Oakville and Mississauga, which together are estimated to have cost at least $585 million to wind down.
As the committee has sifted through documents relating to the gas-plant controversy, emails have surfaced that show Liberal staff discussing their frustration with Speaker Dave Levac's preliminary finding on a related contempt matter last year.
Those emails suggest senior Liberals met with the Speaker, in an apparent attempt to get him to change his mind on a case of contempt against the government for not releasing all requested documents on the gas plants.
When committee members tried to ask questions about this at a hearing on the gas plants this week, they were denied the opportunity to do so, as those questions were ruled out of order.
Wynne said that outcome was not what she had expected.
"I was surprised because I fully expected that those questions could be asked," Wynne said Thursday, when speaking with reporters at the legislature.
That denial spurred the Progressive Conservatives to announce plans to introduce a contempt motion when the legislature resumes next month, while the New Democrats are demanding that the premier expand the scope of the committee’s investigation.
Asked Thursday why she didn't tell the committee chair to allow those questions to go forward, Wynne said that's not the way the process works.
"The chair takes that advice from the clerk and is not directed by me or my office and it's very important that people understand that," Wynne said.
Wynne said the house leaders need to talk about how to resolve their questions about the alleged attempts to influence the Speaker and she is hopeful they will make some headway.
On Thursday, PC House Leader Jim Wilson told The Canadian Press that he doesn't see a reason not to proceed with the contempt motion next month as planned.
Even if the Liberals allow the justice committee to ask questions about interactions with the Speaker, Wilson said that will not deter the introduction of the motion.
"We'll still pursue the contempt (motion), but what may happen is the Speaker may say 'look, you've already got the committee's mandate expanded, I'm not going to do another separate inquiry as you ask,"' said Wilson.
"That may be what he rules, but I don't see any reason at this point to drop the contempt (motion)."
On Thursday, the premier defended the government's efforts to respond to complaints the opposition parties have raised during the ongoing hearings.
"We said that we were going to open the process, we changed the scope of the committee, we have been as open as possible in terms of providing information," she said.
The controversy over the cancelled gas plants has dogged the Liberals since the last provincial election, almost two years ago.
Opposition members say the government scrapped the plants to save Liberal seats.
With files from The Canadian Press