Ontario Gas Plant Scandal: PCs Ask Wynne To Drop Libel Action

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Ontario's Progressive Conservatives are asking Premier Kathleen Wynne to withdraw her threatened libel action against Opposition Leader Tim Hudak and the PC party. (CP)
Ontario's Progressive Conservatives are asking Premier Kathleen Wynne to withdraw her threatened libel action against Opposition Leader Tim Hudak and the PC party. (CP)

TORONTO - Ontario's premier vowed Wednesday to take the next step in her threatened libel suit against the Opposition leader if he doesn't apologize and retract his claim she "possibly ordered" the alleged wiping of government computer hard drives.

Kathleen Wynne's spokeswoman said the premier's lawyer would request unspecified monetary damages if Tim Hudak doesn't withdraw his accusation that Wynne played a role in the destruction of the government documents.

"If they don't retract, a statement of claim will follow which will set out the amount of damages over and above the request of an apology and retraction," Zita Astravas said in an email.

Wynne's lawyer served Hudak, his Progressive Conservative party, PC energy critic Lisa MacLeod and the PC Fund with a libel notice last Friday after sending a "cease and desist" letter earlier in the week.

A libel notice is the first step in the process, but does not necessarily mean a lawsuit will be launched. Astravas did not say when the premier's lawyer might file the statement of claim.

Earlier Wednesday, the Conservatives asked Wynne to drop her threat of a "frivolous" lawsuit they said was aimed at avoiding more embarrassing revelations in the Liberals' $1.1 billion gas plant scandal ahead of a possible spring election.

Hudak wasn't in question period Wednesday, but PC member John Yakabuski asked Wynne to halt her efforts to use "libel chill" to silence the Opposition.

"Premier, your attempts at intimidation against our leader, Tim Hudak, and the member from Nepean-Carleton are unwarranted and undemocratic," said Yakabuski.

"It is our job as the official Opposition to question and hold your scandal plagued government to account. Will you drop this charade today?"

Wynne said she sent the libel notice because Hudak was making allegations that are not based on fact, and insisted she had no role in wiping the hard drives in the premier's office.

"I do not take legal action lightly. It is not something that is in my nature. It is not something that I am inclined to do," Wynne told the legislature. "It is very important to me that as we discuss the issues in this province, that we talk about facts."

Provincial police are investigating possible breach of trust charges related to the hard drives and the deletion of emails on the Liberals' decisions to cancel gas plants in Mississauga and Oakville before the 2011 election.

Wynne is trying to shut down Opposition inquiries into the scandal, knowing the Liberals could soon have to face voters if the minority government can't get its spring budget passed with help from the NDP, said Yakabuski.

"Premier, is it not true that the reason you initiated this frivolous action is because you know the OPP's investigation could still take some time, and you're afraid of other embarrassing revelations coming out prior to a potential spring election?" he asked.

Two months ago, police seized 24 hard drives that had been removed from computers in the premier's office, but so far experts have only been able to retrieve data from four of them. All four were accessed with a special administrator's password on Feb. 6 and 7, 2013, before Wynne was sworn in as premier Feb. 11.

The administrator's password, which testimony at a legislative committee showed was given to McGuinty's former chief of staff David Livingston, was valid until March 20, 2013, but the computer techs can't say yet if it was used after Feb. 7.

Livingston's lawyer has said his client did nothing wrong.

Wynne said she didn't learn of the computers in the premier's office being wiped clean until late last month, when the OPP released an Information To Obtain a search warrant detailing their efforts to find the missing hard drives and retrieve the data they stored.

"Of 24 staff who had their computers wiped, nine of those people are still Liberal staffers (and) three of them are in the premier's office," said NDP Leader Andrea Horwath. "Is the premier saying that none of her staff ever told her about this?"

It was a contempt of parliament motion based on the Liberals' initial refusal to turn over all the gas plant documents that prompted McGuinty to resign on Oct. 6, 2012 and prorogue the legislature.

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