Wynne expands scope of government's document search on cancelled gas plants

TORONTO – Premier Kathleen Wynne moved Thursday to defuse a contempt of parliament motion against her Liberal government over the release of documents on two cancelled gas plants by promising to give the opposition more of the information they’ve been demanding.

On the day the justice committee finally began hearings into the contempt motion, Wynne announced she would expand its mandate “to look at the tendering, planning, commissioning, cancellation, and relocation of the Mississauga and Oakville gas plants.”

The committee’s hearings had been delayed four months by Dalton McGuinty’s move last Oct. 15 to prorogue the legislature and resign as premier.

Wynne announced she would also expand the government’s search for letters, emails and correspondence on the gas plants to include all ministries and across a broader range of dates than the opposition-dominated committee had requested last fall.

“The motion requests that all documents are to be provided within three weeks,” she told reporters.

“During the campaign for the leadership of my party, I was very clear that it was my intention to make available any and all information relating to the cancellation of these projects.”

However, the Progressive Conservatives called Wynne’s move a political stunt and said it was proof the Liberals know they still haven’t released all the documents on the cancellation of the gas plants, which cost taxpayers at least $230 million.

“We’re not interested in seeing any more delays in getting to the coverup,” said PC energy critic Vic Fedeli.

“This committee is looking at the coverup of documents. I’m very concerned that by watering this down, she’s attempting to coverup the coverup of the coverup.”

The New Democrats called it a positive move to expand the scope of the document search and broaden the committee’s mandate, but said Wynne still isn’t meeting the demands of the Tories or NDP.

“I’m not sure it gives it the power of a select committee and it certainly doesn’t give it the power of a public inquiry, something that we’ve asked for,” said NDP energy critic Peter Tabuns.

“It may expand the scope of this committee so that we have a better chance of getting to what did happen in all of this.”

But the Liberal motion was ruled out of order Thursday, causing Tory tempers to flare.

“What we saw today was a disgusting exercise to protect Liberals as opposed to get to the bottom of the scandal of dealing with the gas plants,” said Conservative John Yakabuski.

“They knew then that the motion was out of order. That’s misleading, that’s dishonest, that’s wrong.”

However, the motion can be introduced again if all three parties give their consent to expand the committee’s mandate, which may take a few days.

The Liberals eventually released over 56,000 pages of documents to comply with a Speaker’s order, including another 600 pages last week, but twice had to admit they’d found more after insisting all the data had already been released.

During Thursday’s question period, the Conservatives said it was the Liberal campaign team that cancelled the gas plants to save Liberal seats, and demanded the party turn over documents it has on the projects.

“You have admitted to us that this was a political decision but you’ve offered all decisions from your ministries,” said Fedeli.

“Will you order the Liberal party to release all the campaign documents from this terrible scandal?”

Wynne admitted it was a Liberal campaign decision to scrap the gas plants.

“I think we’ve agreed in this legislature that this was a political decision,” she said.

Government house leader John Milloy said the committee can request whatever documents it wants from the Liberal party or the government.

The opposition parties moved the contempt of parliament motion last fall after a second batch of gas plant documents turned up, charging then-energy minister Chris Bentley with the coverup.

Bentley quit his seat in the legislature this month, and the Liberals say pursuing the contempt motion is “petty and vindictive.”