Ontario premier Dalton McGuinty resigned today.
Credits: CRAIG GLOVER The/London Free Press/QMI AGENCY
LONDON, ON -- Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty tried to distance himself Monday from his government's failure to turn over records that document how $230 million was spent to cancel gas plants -- but his staff were among the few who knew of the brewing scandal weeks before anyone else.
Under questioning in the legislature, McGuinty refused to say when he learned the Energy Ministry and the Ontario Power Authority (OPA) had overlooked 20,000 pages in an oversight now blamed on bureaucrats.
But QMI Agency has learned McGuinty's office learned of potential oversights Sept. 27 and 28 -- more than two weeks before the overlooked pages were made public Friday.
"(Deputy Minister Serge Imbogno) informed the Minister of Energy and the Premier's Office of potential omissions and the need for a second search on September 28," ministry spokesperson Kirby Dier wrote Monday in response to QMI Agency questions.
Officials for the OPA contacted McGuinty's office a day earlier, his staff later admitted to QMI Agency.
Friday's release of documents came 18 days after the release of 36,000 pages that Bentley and other cabinet ministers had said was complete.
The second disclosure caught Liberal cabinet ministers by surprise -- but not the premier's office, Bentley said Monday.
"I don't believe any of my caucus colleagues knew. I won't speak for the premier -- he can speak for himself," the London West MPP said in an interview.
McGuinty wasn't speaking Monday about what he knew or when -- he later announced he'd be resigning -- but his staff wrote they learned of the potential for overlooked records on Sept. 27.
"Individuals in the Premier's Office were made aware that an additional search was underway on September 27th," McGuinty spokesperson Neala Barton wrote.
Bentley was upfront Monday about when he learned of the need for new searches. But he said he didn't know how or why McGuinty's office became involved -- only that it wasn't at Bentley's initiative.
"I know they were in contact but I can't speak to the reason," Bentley said.
The only politician Bentley said he spoke to before Friday was Liberal House leader John Milloy, likely sometime the first week of October.
Milloy joined Bentley in the legislature Monday, saying they hadn't intended to mislead MPPs when they announced previously they'd released all relevant records.
The Tories had already been pursuing a nearly unprecedented contempt charge against Bentley.
"I don't see why we can believe anything the energy minister says these days, and more importantly, the premier of our province," Progressive Conservative Leader Tim Hudak said. "There now is a pattern which certainly leads us to conclude that there's an orchestrated coverup of information," he said.
Deputy Tory leader Christine Elliott has said the party may seek a second contempt motion -- this time against Bentley, Milloy and McGuinty.
-- with files by Antonella Artuso, QMI Agency
Q and A
QMI Agency spoke Monday to two politicians at the heart of the gas plant boondoggle, Liberal Energy Minister Chris Bentley and Tory MPP Rob Leone, who's pushed for records behind the canceled deals.
Q: Did you play any role in (ministry officials) contacting the premier's staff about the potential for missing records?
A: I don't believe I did.
Q: Was it unfortunate the premier's office knew about this, but your colleagues in cabinet did not?
A: The searches were underway, they were being directed by the ministry and the OPA (Ontario Power Authority), not by political staff. Until these searches were concluded, it wasn't clear what was new.
Q: Why not say something about the additional searches when you spoke in the legislature Oct. 2 and 3?
A: The searches were being done (but) they weren't concluded . . . If any incorrect impression had been left or taken from any of the responses I had given . . . It was not intentional.
Q: Is it normal for bureaucrats in the Energy Ministry conducting a search for documents to notify staff in the office of the premier?
A: I couldn't speak to that. Those doing the search will have to speak to what they did.
Q: PC MPP Rob Leone says you owe taxpayers an apology. Your reply?
A: It was absolutely our intention to comply . . . Non-political people were directing the search. I take responsibility. I'm the minister.
Q: Were mistakes made in overlooking documents serious enough to warrant consequences for those involved?
A: It's very disappointing all the documents weren't there in the first place . . . I deeply regret it and I take responsibility.
Q: Did the government deliberately withhold 20,000 pages of documents, or they were incompetent in not producing them in the first place?
They have stated that they provided all the documents when, in fact, they didn't . . . When you mislead the house, you have to resign. That's what we're calling on Mr. Bentley to do.
Q: McGuinty was asked three times today in the house, when he learned documents were missing. He ignored the question. What do you make of his non-response?
A: It's his staffers that had ordered the cancellations for political purposes, leaving his cabinet totally in the dark and that's why he's not answering questions.
Q: Did the premier's office do its best not to create a paper trail?
A: This is one of the largest political coverups in Ontario history. We believe there was communication between the premier's office, his campaign team and the ministry. We don't have enough to say that actually did happen, but that is why we want all documents.
Q: Is it enough of an affront to taxpayers for your party to push for an immediate election?
A: Ontarians don't want an election . . . They do want is the truth.
Q: What questions would you most like us to ask Bentley?
A: Why hasn't he offered an apology yet? If he really is a good, honourable man, why does he chose to continue to be the fall guy for the premier who has thrown him under the bus?