Former premier Dalton McGuinty's office broke law by deleting gas plant e-mails: Commissioner
Ontario information and privacy commissioner Dr. Ann Cavoukian. (Toronto Sun files)
Call it Gas-Gate.
Ontario’s privacy commission released a shocking report Wednesday that found senior Liberal political staff broke the law by deliberately deleting emails on the government’s gas plant scandal.
Opposition MPPs called the report evidence that staffers in the offices of former Premier Dalton McGuinty and his Energy minister engaged in a “cover up” to hide the costs of the government’s decision to cancel the Mississauga and Oakville plants.
“Will you now simply admit that your thirst to cling to power has corrupted you beyond repair?” Tory Critic John Yakabuski asked Premier Kathleen Wynne during a fiery Question Period.
Information and Privacy Commissioner Dr. Ann Cavoukian severely scolded the Liberal government for deleting emails and electronic records connected to their decision to cancel the gas plants during the 2011 provincial election campaign.
That decision has cost taxpayers $585 million and been widely criticized as a deliberate, political attempt by the Liberals to save seats and avoid losing power.
“It is difficult to accept that the routine deletion of emails was not in fact an attempt by staff… to avoid transparency and accountability,” Cavoukian wrote in her report.
“The fact that you’re just wiping it all away indiscriminately is just appalling,” she said.
NDP Leader Andrea Horwath said the report made it clear Liberals don’t believe they need to be accountable and transparent to the public.
“And no matter how much they mouth the words, it’s obviously not in their DNA,” Horwath said.
For her part, Premier Wynne insisted her government cooperated with the investigation and has initiated training sessions for staff on recordkeeping.
“We’ve been following all of the rules in terms of retention of documents. We have trained staff. We have made it clear what the expectations are, and we have taken additional steps to make sure that staff are aware of their responsibilities,” Wynne said.
Cavoukian’s report, “Deleting Accountability: Records Management Practices of Political Staff,” is the result of a complaint by NDP MPP Peter Tabuns.
McGuinty’s chief of staff David Livingston and the energy minister’s Chief of Staff Craig MacLennan destroyed all their e-mails, Cavoukian found.
Both chiefs of staff said they were not attempting to hide information.
MacLennan said he kept his inbox tidy under the impression that there were limits to how many e-mails could be stored, the report said.
Livingston told the commissioner’s investigators that he believed e-mail accounts needed to be wiped for the transition to a new premier, which is why he sought out the secretary of cabinet earlier this year to inquire about deleting e-mails.
Cavoukian concluded that MacLennan’s actions were in violation of the Archives and Recordkeeping Act (ARA).
The premier’s office e-mails could have been deleted as part of a transition to a new premier but she found that this did not comply with staff obligations under the Premier’s Office Records Retention Schedule, and she found the office had a “culture” of avoiding writing anything down on gas plants.
Although the ARA law doesn’t carry any penalties, Cavoukian said the public scrutiny of these actions will bring its own form of accountability.
“If it impacts your ability to be re-elected, then I think that’s the biggest price to pay,” she said.
The record destruction occurred prior to Premier Kathleen Wynne’s arrival as the new party leader, she said.
Cavoukian has made a number of recommendations, asking that the Freedom of Information and Protection of Personal Privacy Act (FIPPA) and its municipal counterpart be amended to make it a serious offence to willfully or inappropriately destroy records and that a directive be issued in the offices of the premier and ministers that a senior official be accountable for records retention policies and practices and ensuring staff training.