Former Ontario premier Dalton McGuinty says he "never focused much attention" on laws that ordered the government to preserve emails and other documents.
Mr. McGuinty, testifying before a legislative committee on why his staff erased emails related to the costly cancellation of two gas-fired power plants, said it simply wasn't worth his time to make sure that government records weren't ever destroyed.
"You might imagine that the premier's day is pretty full. I didn't give much thought to the archives act. I didn't give much thought to the preservation of emails," he said. "I gave thought to the creation of jobs, I gave thought to health care."
He also blamed the province's transparency laws, which his own government brought in, for causing "confusion" that allowed documents to be deleted.
"These rules are conflicting, they are messy, they are confusing," he said.
When asked by opposition MPPs why he had not made sure the legislation was enforced, Mr. McGuinty said he "moved on to other things."
Mr. McGuinty was in fighting form, slamming the opposition MPPs on the committee for "climbing on their high horses" in attacking his government.
"This committee is not an exercise in finding the truth," he said. "This is a partisan exercise, let's be honest."
Mr. McGuinty ordered two gas plants, in the Toronto suburbs of Mississauga and Oakville, cancelled at a cost of $585 million. The move was widely seen as a partisan play to save Liberal candidates in the area from defeat.
Mr. McGuinty stepped down as premier earlier this year. He resigned from the legislature two weeks ago.
Earlier Tuesday, the province’s information watchdog accused Mr. McGuinty’s former chief of staff, Chris Morley, of “misleading” the committee. Mr. Morley had defended the deletion of emails, saying there were “99 reasons” why the practice was completely fine.
For instance, Mr. Morley said, it was okay to erase emails if they were duplicates or so-called “transitory” records – emails that were of very little importance.
But Information and Privacy Commissioner Ann Cavoukian said there are only four situations where it would be permissible to delete an email and that it “defies probability” that every single one of Mr. Morley’s emails fell within these exceptions.
“Let’s start with the name of the law: it is called the Archives and Record-Keeping Act, not the Record-Deleting Act,” Ms. Cavoukian told committee Tuesday morning. “The fact that Mr. Morley placed such weight on a perceived obligation to delete emails rather than the real obligation to retain critical documents is telling.”
“His focus was entirely on the deletion of records, not their retention,” she said.
Ms. Cavoukian said the deletion practices by Mr. McGuinty’s staffers was of such a “massive scale” that they were likely doing it to avoid public scrutiny.
Ms. Cavoukian, who slammed Liberal political staffers in a report last month, said she did not buy staffers’ explanation that they were simply erasing emails to keep their inboxes tidy.
“It strained credulity that it could be for reasons other than shielding one’s activities from public scrutiny,” she said.
“If there isn’t one single email located” related to the gas plants, “what are the odds of that?”
Since Kathleen Wynne replaced Mr. McGuinty, she said, the government has been tightening up its policies.
She said Ms. Wynne is making sure a senior staffer in every minister’s office is in charge of enforcing the rules around document preservation.