Alberta’s Information and Privacy Commissioner is fast-tracking an investigation into whether a candidate for the leadership of the governing Progressive Conservative Party broke the law by destroying documents and using government e-mail accounts under different names.
The investigation into Ted Morton’s time as minister of finance and sustainable resource development follows a CBC report that Mr. Morton’s staff deleted e-mails and shredded “all” ministry documents when he left the portfolio.
It also revealed he used two government e-mail addresses – one with the name Ted Morton and one under “Frederick Lee,” his first and second name. Mr. Morton, a former professor, is usually known as “Ted,” but uses “F.L.” in his academic work. A one-time employee who was fired and is now in a labour board dispute with the province told the CBC that Mr. Morton sent e-mails as Frederick Lee when he “didn’t want people to know it was him doing the writing.”
The story dominated the local news, but Mr. Morton’s campaign shrugged it off, saying the destroyed documents weren’t important. “You’re leaving an office, so yeah, you clean out the place,” campaign manager Sam Armstrong said. “I don’t think there’s a story here.”
It’s also common for politicians to have government e-mail addresses for public correspondence and for office work, and Mr. Morton has made no secret of his given name. Federal MPs are allotted several e-mails each for interoffice communication, and even Premier Ed Stelmach went to bat for Mr. Morton (the two men have often clashed), saying he, too, uses a private government e-mail to correspond with office staff.
“He gets thousands of e-mails a day. It would render his BlackBerry ineffective as any kind of tool to do work [if he had only one address]” said Cam Hantiuk, Mr. Stelmach’s spokesman.
Nonetheless, the office of Information and Privacy Commissioner Frank Work will investigate. However, Mr. Work is out of the country, and the first leadership ballot is on Sept. 17. Wayne Wood, a spokesman for Mr. Work’s office, said the investigation will be accelerated, but won’t finish before the first vote.
It will address two main questions: Whether using the Frederick Lee e-mail address would have allowed Mr. Morton to circumvent the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act (FOIP), and whether any documents or e-mails were illegally destroyed.
However, it’s not clear whether the Frederick Lee e-mails would have been available to the public. The FOIP Act was written in 1995 and says any “record” created by or for a member of executive council or an MLA isn’t subject to a search. The wording does not indicate whether this includes e-mails. However, a government spokeswoman said on Thursday an e-mail is considered a record under the FOIP Act.
Two of the other five leadership candidates, Doug Horner and Alison Redford, served in cabinet until the race began. Both say they worked with only their constituency and government e-mails and used their full names. Former cabinet minister Gary Mar, also a leadership candidate, didn’t comment. A spokesman said he had only one e-mail address.
When she left her post as justice minister, Ms. Redford said, she didn’t clean out documents or e-mail.
“I did not touch my documents, I did not direct that they go anywhere, I did not direct anything be done with them – nothing,” Ms. Redford said.
With a report from Dawn Walton in Calgary