POLITICS

I wouldn't tolerate staff putting 'any undue pressure' on Speaker: Wynne

07/31/2013 01:23 EDT | Updated 09/30/2013 05:12 EDT
TORONTO - 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 Wednesday.

"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."

Recently recovered emails suggest senior aides in former premier Dalton McGuinty's office tried to get Levac to change his preliminary finding that then-energy minister Chris Bentley was in contempt for not releasing all documents on two cancelled gas plants.

They suggest that Levac had rebuffed attempts by former McGuinty aide Dave Gene, who met with the Speaker in an effort to convince him to change the contempt ruling.

The opposition parties are accusing the Liberals of trying to bully the Speaker, saying it's akin to trying to influence a judge on a court decision.

Levac issued a statement Tuesday 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."

Levac's statement doesn't add up, said New Democrat house leader Gilles Bisson.

It's inappropriate to meet the Speaker in private to try to influence him, he said. Only the house leaders and party whips of all three parties are supposed to talk to the Speaker or his staff.

If someone wants to get their point across, they should speak to Levac's staff, do the research and raise their objections publicly in the legislature, Bisson said.

"You don't go into a dark corner somewhere at Queen's Park and say, 'Hey, if you don't do it my way, there'll be some kind of repercussion,'" he said. "That's just not on."

Progressive Conservative Rob Leone, who brought the contempt motion against Bentley, called it "hijacking democracy."

"I think most people, in coming to the conclusions looking through the documents as we have, will see that this is a culture of cover-up in the Liberal party," he said.

The emails also show tension among McGuinty's staff over efforts to manage the government's response to the growing scandal.

In one email last September, then-deputy chief of staff Laura Miller expressed consternation that government house leader John Milloy had publicly confirmed when the first batch of documents would be released.

"I know we have this preference to put out elected officials," she wrote to the premier's press secretary. "But strike him off the list."

Bisson said the email shows there was a clear division among the Liberals about how to deal with the gas plants documents.

The NDP plan to call Miller and Gene to appear before the legislative committee that's examining the cancellation of the gas plants, which meets next Tuesday.

The Liberals spent at least $585 million to kill the two plants in Oakville and Mississauga before the 2011 election, which the opposition parties claim was an attempt to save seats amid local opposition to the projects.

Note to readers: This is a corrected story. An earlier version quoted the Progressive Conservatives as saying more emails were handed over to the committee on Wednesday. They now say that happened on Friday.