09/27/2012 02:30 EDT | Updated 11/27/2012 05:12 EST

Tories reject Liberal request to drop contempt motion against Bentley

TORONTO - An attempt by Ontario's minority Liberal government to end debate on the contempt motion against Energy Minister Chris Bentley was quickly shot down Thursday by the opposition parties.

The Progressive Conservatives introduced the contempt motion Tuesday, blocking all other legislative business, including the daily question period, until the debate, which has no time limit, finally ends.

The Tories and New Democrats are taking the government to task with the motion because the Liberals fought a committee's request to release documents on the government's decision to cancel two power plants planned for Oakville and Mississauga, which cost taxpayers of at least $230 million.

The Liberals said Thursday they would agree to send the issue of the cancelled gas plants to committee, but only if the opposition parties drop the contempt motion against Bentley.

"The committee's recommendations shall not include any proposal to punish or discipline the minister of energy, including a finding of contempt of the legislature," reads a Liberal amendment to the motion.

Progressive Conservative House Leader Jim Wilson accused the Liberals of trying to limit the committee's work, and said the government seemed to assume Bentley would be found in contempt.

"They're throwing Bentley even further under the bus," Wilson said in an interview.

"They're talking about the penalty phase, acting as if minister Bentley has already been found in contempt."

The NDP said the Liberals were "once again trying to slow the process down" with their amendment.

"It’s time we moved the motion into committee so we can get to the bottom of the real costs and motivations behind the gas plant relocations," said NDP House Leader Gilles Bisson.

The NDP haven't put up anyone to speak to the contempt motion since Tuesday, leaving Conservatives and Liberals to take turns making 20-minute speeches attacking or defending Bentley.

"As long as the PCs continue to put forward irresponsible claims, there will continue to be interest among government members to speak to this motion and defend minister Bentley, who is a man of integrity," Government House Leader John Milloy said in a release.

"All the documents requested by the committee have been produced, but the opposition is trying to throw any mud they can against the wall in a desperate attempt to see if anything sticks. This motion is purely about partisan politics. Nothing more."

It will likely be the middle of next week before regular business resumes at the legislature, with the Conservatives saying they still had members who want to be heard on the contempt motion.

"It’s the first time we’ve debated something like this in 104 years," said Tory Rob Leone, who introduced the motion.

"I know a lot of my colleagues want to speak to this issue because this is history in the making. They’re going to speak to it until we exhaust that."

Bentley released 36,000 pages of documents on the cancelled gas-fired plants on Monday to comply with a Speaker's ruling, but that wasn't enough to satisfy the opposition parties.

The Tories and New Democrats say there were documents missing, especially those that would clarify exactly who made the political decision to scrap the two energy projects.

Leone's original motion, which demands Bentley release more documents on the cancelled power stations, also calls for the recreation of the finance committee to deal with the contempt issue and examine the documents.

If the New Democrats support Leone's original motion, the minority Liberal government would then have 10 days to set up the committee, likely around Oct. 15.

There have been no legislative committees since August because the three parties have been unable to agree on their make-up, so the motion calls for the finance committee to be reconstituted as it was when it last met.

The New Democrats called the government's $40-million cost figure for the cancelled Oakville gas-fired plant a "dramatic understatement."

The Conservatives rejected the government's figure as way too low, and say the documents show taxpayers will be on the hook for hundreds of millions of dollars more than that.