The Ontario government has found emails from a top political staffer related to the costly cancellations of two gas-fired power plants, a few weeks after saying the records had been deleted.
The emails belong to Craig MacLennan, the former chief of staff to two energy ministers. Mr. MacLennan has been named in other peoples’ emails as taking part in discussions over a deal with TransCanada Energy, the company building one of the plants, but he deleted all of his own emails. When information and privacy commissioner Ann Cavoukian tried to get hold of them, she said IT staff told her the documents could not be retrieved.
But, after a legislative committee ordered civil servants to go back and look again, they found part of Mr. MacLennan’s email account on a secondary server.
In a statement, Ms. Cavoukian said she was “dismayed” that civil servants had “misinformed” her when they said the emails could not be recovered.
“I am appalled that we were provided with incorrect information during the course of my investigation, that was misleading,” she said. “I am, however, very pleased that these records have now been found.”
Civil servants are currently pouring through the emails to separate the ones related to the gas plant matter and will turn them over to Ms. Cavoukian and the committee.
In a letter to Government Services Minister John Milloy, Deputy Minister Kevin Costante explained that Mr. MacLennan’s emails had been stored on two servers. His more recent emails, stored on the primary server, were wiped clean, but the rest of his account, on the other server, had been preserved.
Mr. Costante’s letter says staff are continuing to search for other gas-plant related emails that might previously have been missed.
“I regret that we were unable to find this information earlier,” he wrote.
Mr. Costante’s letter suggests that the fault for not releasing the emails sooner lies with non-partisan IT staff who failed to find them, and not with the Liberals.
Progressive Conservative Energy Critic Vic Fedeli, whose motion at committee prompted the more thorough search that turned up the documents, praised Ms. Cavoukian’s determination to find the documents.
“We’ve been talking about these missing emails for nine months, sometimes to empty halls, but she proved that there were indeed a slew of missing emails,” he said. “And now after her being assured there were absolutely no more, here we go again. There were indeed emails that were responsive to the gas plant request.”
In a statement, New Democrat Energy Critic Peter Tabuns said he was “surprised and pleased” the emails had come to light.
“New Democrats have been getting to the bottom of the gas plant scandal. The Liberals chose to put their own partisan interests ahead of the people of Ontario,” he said.
Former premier Dalton McGuinty pulled the plug on the plants at an estimated cost of $585-million, in the Toronto suburbs of Mississauga and Oakville, in what was widely seen as an effort to save the party from losing area seats in the 2011 election.
A Globe and Mail review of government records this spring found that Mr. McGuinty’s office then interfered with discussions on the Oakville plant. Mr. MacLennan was copied in on correspondence related to the talks.
In a report last month, Ms. Cavoukian revealed that the emails of Liberal political staffers connected to the gas plant cancellations had been erased, a violation of provincial law. She also revealed that the offices of Mr. McGuinty and some of his ministers had no process for making sure key government documents were preserved.
Mr. Fedeli’s committee motion asked for IT staff to also search for emails by other political staffers, including three people in Mr. McGuinty’s office. Sources said Wednesday those searches are continuing.
Mr. Milloy promised Wednesday that the government would do a better job of saving documents.
“Since February, we have proactively taken a number of steps to ensure political staff are aware of their responsibilities under the Archives and Recordkeeping Act and the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act, including mandatory all-staff training for Minister’s Office and Premier’s Office staff and improved orientation for new political employees,” he said in a statement. “We are committed to making further improvements following the Information and Privacy Commissioner’s special report.”