Ontario Liberals want to drop contempt motion if gas plant documents go

It’s the first time we’ve debated something like this in 104 yearsTORONTO — It will likely be the middle of next week before regular business resumes at the Ontario legislature, with the Conservatives saying Thursday they still had members who want to be heard on the contempt motion against Energy Minister Chris Bentley.“It’s the first time we’ve debated something like this in 104 years,” said Tory Rob Leone, who introduced the contempt motion Tuesday, blocking all other business, including the daily question period, until the debate ends.Leone introduced the motion because the Liberals fought a committee’s request to release documents on their decision to cancel two power plants planned for Oakville and Mississauga, at a cost to taxpayers of at least $230 million.“I know a lot of my colleagues want to speak to this issue because this is history in the making,” said Leone. “They’re going to speak to it until we exhaust that.”The Liberals said Thursday they would agree to send the issue of the cancelled gas-plants to committee, but only if the Tories and NDP agree to 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 Leone’s motion.The NDP haven’t put up anyone to speak to the contempt motion since Tuesday, and said Thursday they wanted to have the vote and send the issue to committee.“It’s time to move the debate from the legislative chamber to committee so we can call witnesses, question them and fully understand what happened in the case of these two politically-driven gas plant cancellations,” said NDP energy critic Peter Tabuns.“We need to have the documentation as requested, and we need to have the testimony of those who actually made the decision about what really happened.”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 the 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.However, Thursday’s motion from the Liberals shows they will agree to recreate the finance committee, if the opposition parties drop the contempt motion.The Conservatives rejected the government’s figure of $40 million for cancelling the Oakville project as way too low, and say the documents show taxpayers will be on the hook for hundreds of millions of dollars more than that.“The government has clearly buried staggering costs of this expensive seat-saver program deep within the contract,” said Leone.“They have not been truthful, and the government continues to defy the will and the authority of the legislature by providing documents that are incomplete and heavily redacted.”The New Democrats called the government’s $40 million cost figure for the cancelled Oakville gas-fired plant a “dramatic understatement.” read more

UN refugee agency concerned by new US asylum policy

In a letter to the US Government yesterday, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, Ruud Lubbers, noted that, “detention of asylum seekers should be the exception, not the rule and should be based on an individualized assessment of the security risk the person poses. Blanket mandatory detention based on nationality varies from accepted international human rights norms and standards.” The policy – dubbed “Operation Liberty Shield” – was announced earlier in the week, and includes calls for the mandatory automatic detention of asylum-seekers from 33 classified countries and territories “where Al-Qaida, Al-Qaida sympathizers, and other terrorist groups are known to have operated.” The US Government bills the policy as a comprehensive national plan “designed to increase protections for America’s citizens and infrastructure while maintaining the free flow of goods and people across borders.”From Geneva today, a spokesman from the Office of the High Commissioner (UNHCR) said while the agency fully recognizes and supports the need for heightened security measures during tenuous times of increased insecurity, the tendency to link asylum seekers and refugees to terrorism is a dangerous and erroneous one. Kris Janowski stressed that asylum seekers who reach the US have themselves escaped acts of persecution and violence, including terrorism, and have proven time and again that they are the victims and not the perpetrators of these attacks. “The US has always been a generous and safe harbour for those victims of war and persecution,” he said, “and UNHCR hopes these people in need will continue to find safety and dignity on US shores.”Mr. Janowski noted that while UNHCR shares US concerns about potential abuse of the asylum system, the country already has in place a number of screenings to identify those individuals who pose potential security risks. “US asylum law and the 1951 Refugee Convention exclude any persons engaged in terrorist acts from refugee protection,” he said. read more