News

Gas plant committee shuts down questions about Speaker

By Antonella Artuso, Queen's Park Bureau Chief

Former Dalton McGuinty staffer Laura Miller speaks to reporters after testifying at the gas plant committee hearing at Queen's Park on Tuesday, Aug. 6, 2013. (Antonella Artuso/Toronto Sun)

Former Dalton McGuinty staffer Laura Miller speaks to reporters after testifying at the gas plant committee hearing at Queen's Park on Tuesday, Aug. 6, 2013. (Antonella Artuso/Toronto Sun)

TORONTO - 

Opposition MPPs railed against the Liberal chair of a gas plant committee Tuesday after questions to a former senior political aide on an alleged attempt to “bully” Ontario Speaker Dave Levac were repeatedly ruled out of order.

“This stinks,” NDP House Leader Gilles Bisson said, as committee chair Shafiq Qaadri refused to allow the opposition to pursue that line of inquiry.

Laura Miller, who worked in former premier Dalton McGuinty’s office, was asked to testify after an e-mail exchange she had with Liberal campaign director Don Guy last September surfaced in a number of documents released to the committee.

After Guy wrote that the “Speaker needs to follow up on his prima facie finding and change his mind” — an apparent reference to a contempt case against former energy minister Chris Bentley — Miller said, “Dave is putting the member from Brant on notice that we need better here.”

Opposition MPPs allege that senior Liberal aides were attempting to intimidate the Liberal Speaker into changing his ruling which was unfavourable to their party.

Miller told the committee that she wanted to draw Levac’s attention to the behaviour of the PCs who were not following the “spirit” of his ruling that the three parties work together on the disclosure of gas plant records.

“I did nothing wrong,” Miller said, when the NDP accused her of trying to control information around the gas plants.

Levac said in a statement that he did not feel politically pressured by a meeting with a senior McGuinty aide and did not change his ruling.

Qaadri did allow Miller to address the Speaker scandal in her opening remarks, but would not let the opposition do the same in its questioning despite her offer to do so.

Tory MPP Vic Fedeli, who had numerous questions thrown out, said he believes the Liberals are purposely trying to cut off this avenue of investigation.

“Clearly, this coverup gets deeper,” he said.

NDP MPP Peter Tabuns said his party now has to decide if there’s any point in calling Levac to committee to discuss hi meeting with McGuinty aide Dave Gene.

“I think the chair was wrong in saying that we couldn’t ask questions,” Tabuns said. “I think the fact that that whole line of question was shut down was wrong.”

Bisson said the Liberal chair’s actions raise questions about Premier Kathleen Wynne’s commitment to transparency in the investigation into gas plants.

Liberal MPP Bob Delaney, a member of the committee, said the opposition accusations against the committee chair are unfair.

“I’ve chaired a committee and they leave you completely alone,” Delaney said. “If the chair of this committee came to a determination of what was and wasn’t in bounds, he had to have done so in close and detailed consultation with the Clerk’s Office.

“And neither the party nor the premier have any input to that,” he said.

Miller, who spoke to media following her appearance at committee, said she was concerned that the opposition, and particularly the PCs, were being unfair to Bentley by calling him dishonourable and threatening his livelihood and liberty.

Miller said she wanted to raise these concerns with Levac but was not attempting to direct him.

“He’s the Speaker; he’s independent; he’s the referee,” she said.

A spokesman for Wynne called the accusations from the opposition “baseless,” as committee chairs are chosen by members of all three parties and are independent.

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