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National affairs columnist Gary Mason. (JOHN LEHMANN/The Globe and Mail)
National affairs columnist Gary Mason. (JOHN LEHMANN/The Globe and Mail)

Exercising the right to remain silent isn’t always a good idea Add to ...

A growing political scandal in Ontario has now breached the Rockies and become a problem for Premier Christy Clark.

Both the Ontario Provincial Police and a committee of the Ontario legislature want to talk to the executive director of the B.C. Liberal Party, Laura Miller, in connection with a billion-dollar gas-plant scandal that has ensnared the Ontario government. Major allegations have been levelled at two men with whom Ms. Miller has enjoyed exceptionally close relationships: her boyfriend, Peter Faist, and her former boss, David Livingston.

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The controversy has consumed Ontario’s political agenda ever since police documents were unsealed alleging Mr. Livingston, chief of staff to then-premier Dalton McGuinty, had hard drives in the premier’s office wiped clean by Mr. Faist, a computer whiz who was not an employee of the government at the time. It’s believed the destruction of e-mails was an attempt to cover up the true costs of cancelling two gas plants, now estimated to be around $1.1-billion.

It’s alleged that Mr. Livingston had this done in the final days of Mr. McGuinty’s reign as premier.

It’s obvious why police and a legislative committee looking into this ugly affair would want to talk to Ms. Miller. First, she was Mr. Livingston’s deputy at the time this breach of trust is alleged to have occurred.

And the man said to have been brought in to rinse the system of any incriminating e-mails was her boyfriend. Ms. Miller herself would have been one of the most senior members in the premier’s office and one of the most powerful people in government at the time.

Is it conceivable that she wouldn’t have known a thing about any of this? Either the plot allegedly hatched by Mr. Livingston to have computers scoured or her IT-savvy boyfriend’s role in carrying it out? You’d have a hard time finding many people who would believed that.

The police have already interviewed several members of the Ontario government who possessed knowledge about what happened: bureaucrats who willingly co-operated in the investigation. It’s their testimony that largely compelled the OPP to make the so-far unsubstantiated charges against Mr. Livingston. (None of the allegations have been proven in court.) Police have not alleged any impropriety on Ms. Miller’s part.

Ms. Miller hired a lawyer who has advised her against talking to police unless investigators guarantee her that nothing she says will be used against her in a court of law. Police have refused to make this deal. She has the right to remain silent and the legal advice she was given is not uncommon. That said, it looks terrible.

While others are stepping up to tell police what they know, she is remaining tight-lipped. On the surface, it appears as if she is trying to protect others, namely her boyfriend, who just arrived in B.C. to live with her. (He, too, is refusing to co-operate with police.) Peter Tabuns, an Ontario MPP and NDP member of the province's standing committee on justice, has written to Ms. Clark, asking her to give Ms. Miller time away from her political duties to return to Ontario and testify. Mr. Tabuns believes believes Ms. Miller could provide information on dates and times when her boyfriend allegedly had access to computers in the premier’s office. Ms. Miller has apparently no plans to go.

For her part, Ms. Clark has offered Ms. Miller her full support, saying it’s up to her executive director if she wants to talk to police or not. The Premier added that Ms. Miller is an upstanding citizen who has done outstanding work on behalf of the Liberal Party of B.C. All of which is fine and likely true – but also completely immaterial.

In taking the position she has, Ms. Clark is effectively condoning the actions of someone in her employ who is refusing to co-operate with an extremely serious criminal investigation unless she gets certain immunity protection. This is not a janitor working the night a crime might have occurred. This is a person who has undeniable links with two of the main principals at the centre of this scandal. It defies all plausibility that Ms. Miller doesn’t have some information that would be vital to police.

I’m almost sure that is not the kind of behaviour the Premier of B.C. wants to be endorsing.

While Ms. Clark’s loyalty to a friend and employee is laudable, in this case it is misplaced. This is a potentially serious criminal matter and the executive director of her party needs to co-operate with the police completely and forthwith. And until she decides to, she should temporarily step down from her job – or be asked to. Otherwise she will continue to be a distraction.

Correction: An earlier version of this column stated that a committee of the Ontario legislature had written to Ms. Clark. In fact, the letter was written by NDP MPP Peter Tabuns, a member of the committee.

Follow me on Twitter: @garymasonglobe

Follow on Twitter: @garymasonglobe

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