Ontario New Democrats are raising concerns that the Liberals failed to save BlackBerry messages that may have shed light on the costly cancellations of two gas-fired power plants.
The NDP asked for gas plant-related BBMs between three Liberal staffers and former premier Dalton McGuinty, but were told that none exist. A response to the request also says government-issued BlackBerries were wiped clean after staffers left the government’s employ.
Two weeks ago, the province’s information and privacy commissioner slammed the offices of Mr. McGuinty and his former energy ministers for purging their emails. Under transparency legislation the Liberals themselves brought in, the government must save and archive emails.
NDP Energy Critic Peter Tabuns said the same rules apply to text messages.
“They already have a requirement under law to preserve electronic records – it doesn’t matter the form of that electronic record, they’re already supposed to be preserving that,” he said. “We would like to know if they are in fact doing that with their BlackBerry and PIN messages.”
There is no direct evidence that Mr. McGuinty’s aides discussed the gas plant cancellations on BBM, but political staff around Queen’s Park are known to regularly use the service to correspond about government business.
In a statement, Government House Leader John Milloy said Premier Kathleen Wynne has tightened up record-keeping procedures since taking office to make sure staffers are saving all their electronic records. It was not clear from the statement if this meant BBMs and text messages are also now being preserved.
“Since February, the new government has proactively taken a number of steps to ensure political staff follow the rules 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.
Mr. Milloy also pointed to the more than 130,000 pages of records the government has handed over to a committee probing the gas plant cancellations as proof of the government’s commitment to transparency.
Progressive Conservative MPP Rod Jackson said the Liberals’ past actions constitute a cover-up of the gas plant issue.
“Any information they have they need to come forward with,” he said.
The Liberals pulled the plug on the power plants, in the Toronto suburbs of Mississauga and Oakville, in what was seen as a political play to save their candidates in the area from defeat.
The total tab for the cancellations has reached $585-million, more than double what the Liberals originally claimed.