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Opposition parties team up to pass contempt motion at Queen's Park

The Progressive Conservatives and NDP teamed up to pass a contempt motion on the Liberals’ controversial cancellation of two GTA power plants.

The motion passed by a vote of 53 to 50 Tuesday at Queen’s Park. The issue will now go to a finance committee, which will decide if Energy Minister Chris Bentley should be held in contempt of Parliament for allegedly withholding documents on the costs of cancelling the projects.

“I take this whole proceeding very seriously,” Bentley said after the vote.

“I’ve worked hard to do my job. I’m focused on my obligations. There were some pretty tough decisions here — government’s about tough decisions – we made them. We’ve relocated the gas plants.”

PC Leader Tim Hudak said the vote marked a “sad day in the legislature,” and said he was expecting a Liberal apology.

“They ripped off taxpayers and they’re not even sorry about it?” he said.

NDP Leader Andrea Horwath said her MPPs were doing their job by voting in favour of the motion and “holding the government to account.”

The contempt vote happened hours after Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty came to Bentley’s defence and warned a vote in favour would have “serious personal consequences” for Bentley and would “substantially alter the traditions of our legislature.”

McGuinty called on Hudak and Horwath to allow their MPPs to have a free vote on the “extreme measure.”

“In the 220-year history of our legislature, no house has ever voted to find a fellow member in contempt, let alone impose a punishment for contempt,” McGuinty said.

The vote was triggered by the Liberals’ delayed response to calls to release documents on the costs of cancelling two power plants in Oakville and Mississauga. The Liberals claim the move cost taxpayers $230 million, but opposition members believe that figure is much higher.

PC MPP Peter Shurman said the decision to scrub the power plants was made as a result of an “election being a week away where the government of the day stood in danger of losing seats.”

He claims the Liberals used up to $650 million “as a result of that decision.”

“If that’s not contemptible, I don’t know what is,” he said.

The committee will now study related documents and call witnesses to determine if Bentley should be held in contempt. It will likely report its findings in November.

The Speaker provided a deadline for Bentley to hand over some 36,000 documents and the energy minister met it, McGuinty said Tuesday. Opposition members asked for all of the documents to be released, and Bentley did that, the premier added.

Opposition parties claim the documents weren’t released in full and key passages were redacted.

PC MPP Rob Leone asked the Speaker to call the vote on the contempt motion on Monday. McGuinty cancelled an event at the University of Toronto scheduled for Tuesday morning in order to hold the news conference.

“The reality is we have a decision that wasn’t made by cabinet. It wasn’t approved by the legislature. It was made by nameless, faceless, campaign activists who are unaccountable to this legislature,” Leone said.

With files from The Canadian Press