Chris Bentley could face jail time in historic censure
London Community News
By Robert Benzie and Rob Ferguson
Energy Minister Chris Bentley faces a historic punishment – or even jail time – after opposition MPPs used their majority in the legislature to ram through a motion to probe the $230 million in cancelled power plants.
“It’s a very difficult thing to have to listen to,” a sombre Bentley told reporters after the 53-50 vote to send the matter to the legislature’s finance committee.
In their zeal to investigate how Liberals scrapped two plants to save five Grit MPPs’ seats in Oakville and Mississauga, the Progressive Conservatives and New Democrats believe the minister could be in contempt of parliament.
If the legislature concludes he is — something that has not happened in the 220-year history of an assembly predating Confederation — the minister faces penalties as stiff as incarceration.
Rallying behind embattled Bentley, Premier Dalton McGuinty charged opposition MPPs are smearing an honest man for political gain and setting a “terrible precedent.”
“These attacks, these threats, this heavy handed, unprecedented process — using the full force of the legislature against one MPP — these are decidedly not in keeping with the standards and traditions we seek to uphold,” McGuinty told reporters at a hastily called news conference at Queen’s Park prior to the vote.
The premier had been scheduled to make a “good-news” announcement at the University of Toronto’s Leslie Dan School of Pharmacy, but scuttled it late Monday night to refocus on the political crisis that has engulfed his one-year-old minority administration.
Tory Leader Tim Hudak conceded it’s “a sad day” for the legislature, but said the chips must fall where they may for Bentley and the Liberals.
“They made the choice and now they have to live with it,” said Hudak, adding “it’ll be up to committee” to recommend to the legislature by Nov. 19 whether the minister should be jailed or face “the appropriate sanction.”
The crisis stems from the delayed release of 36,000 pages of documents related to the Liberals’ cancellation of two power plants in Oakville and Mississauga.
Legislative proceedings had ground to a halt for days while MPPs debated the Bentley imbroglio.
While he handed over the thousands of documents on Sept. 24 — meeting the deadline set by Speaker Dave Levac — the Tories and New Democrats believe key passages from at least 2,000 pages have been redacted.
Still, the documents show it cost at least $40 million to stop the Oakville plant in the fall of 2010, which assured local Liberal MPP Kevin Flynn of re-election last Oct. 6.
Late in last year’s election campaign, the Liberals also cancelled a gas-fired facility near Sherway Gardens, which cost $190 million to shutter but saved four Grit MPPs’ seats in Etobicoke and Mississauga.
McGuinty noted that Bentley could become the first minister ever found in contempt of parliament in the Ontario legislature, a serious punishment that would have “profound consequences for his career, his reputation, and his life.”
Despite the premier’s appeal, the Tories and the New Democrats sensed a political advantage though the two opposition parties appear to differ on strategy moving forward.
- Torstar News Service