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Tories want OPP to probe deletion of gas plant e-mails

Privacy Commissioner accuses senior Liberal staff of violating the Archives and Recordkeeping Act


June 6, 2013
by CANAIDAN PRESS

TORONTO — Ontario’s Progressive Conservatives want police to investigate the destruction of government documents on cancelled gas plants by senior Liberal staff.

Privacy Commissioner Ann Cavoukian reported June 5 that top Liberals in former premier Dalton McGuinty’s office and the Ministry of Energy broke the law by deleting their e-mails on the cancelled gas plants in Oakville and Mississauga.

Cavoukian singled out David Livingston, McGuinty’s former chief of staff, and Craig MacLennan, the former chief of staff at the Ministry of Energy, for violating the Archives and Recordkeeping Act.

It’s “quite frankly unbelievable” that any minister’s political staff would think it appropriate to delete all email records on the gas plants, she said.

The Canadian Press has learned the Conservatives plan to ask that the Ontario Provincial Police be called in to investigate the destruction of the government e-mails.

The Tories want the police to determine how widespread the document destruction was and if any of the missing data can be recovered.

For months, the opposition parties have accused the Liberals of destroying e-mails to hide the true cost of cancelling the gas plants, now an estimated $585 million.

Cavoukian found McGuinty’s former chief of staff tried as late as January to have e-mail accounts for several Liberals permanently deleted from government databases.

There are no penalties for violating Ontario’s Archives and Recordkeeping Act, but Cavoukian’s findings could help the opposition parties find the Liberals guilty of a rare contempt of parliament motion, which can carry legal sanctions.

The Tories say the deleted e-mails could also become part of a breach of trust case against the government, which they say could lead to criminal charges.

“It truly strains credulity to think that absolutely no records … responsive to the Speaker’s ruling were retained,” Information and Privacy Commissioner Ann Cavoukian wrote in her special report called “Deleting Accountability: Records Management Practices of Political Staff.”

“It is difficult to accept that the routine deletion of emails was not in fact an attempt by staff … to avoid transparency and accountability.”

The Progressive Conservatives said the report is proof of an attempt by the Liberals to cover up the costs of cancelling the gas plants, estimated to be at least $585 million.

“Our suspicions have finally been confirmed,” said PC critic Rob Leone.

“It is reprehensible that the premier’s office purposely deleted emails to avoid the truth from being exposed about their involvement in the gas plant scandals.”

NDP Leader Andrea Horwath said the commissioner’s report shows “it’s obviously not in the Liberals’ DNA” to be transparent or accountable.

“Does the premier really believe that when the Minister of Energy’s chief of staff, the former premier’s chief of staff, his principal secretary and his energy adviser were destroying all of these documents, that they were simply trying to keep their inboxes clean?” Horwath asked during question period.

Premier Kathleen Wynne said she has made it clear since taking over from McGuinty that all staff are to be briefed on how to follow the rules on retention of documents.

“We have taken proactive steps since we’ve been here in February to make sure that all the rules are being followed and information is available and is retained and all of those protocols are in place,” Wynne told the legislature.

Cavoukian recommended a review of the government’s record retention policies, that staff be properly trained in their records management obligations and that a directive be issued to all staff in the premier’s and ministers’ offices regarding her report.

© 2013 The Canadian Press