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Bureaucrat demoted for alleged role in records purge

Insiders are disputing each other’s statements to investigators about decisions during Dalton McGuinty’s last days as premier.

Fred Lum/The Globe and Mail

A senior bureaucrat who allegedly played a key role in the destruction of government records is no longer overseeing Ontario's archives, and Dalton McGuinty's former chief of staff who was accused of orchestrating the purge is on a leave from his private-sector job.

The fallout from allegations contained in police documents widened on Wednesday, with David Nicholl removed as acting deputy minister of government services. The Globe and Mail has also learned that David Livingston, Mr. McGuinty's former chief of staff, has taken a leave of absence as senior adviser at law firm Borden Ladner Gervais.

Premier Kathleen Wynne's cabinet agreed to replace Mr. Nicholl with Greg Orencsak, who is associate deputy minister of the Treasury Board. Mr. Nicholl's demotion came two days after the governing Liberals cut their ties to Peter Faist, the IT expert caught up in a criminal probe into the deletion of documents. The Liberal Party terminated a contract with Mr. Faist on the weekend.

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"Mr. Nicholl's assignment was always temporary," cabinet office spokesman Craig Sumi told The Globe.

Mr. Orencsak was not slated to make the move to government services until April 22, according to an internal cabinet office memo obtained by The Globe. However, one source with knowledge of the cabinet discussions said his appointment was accelerated after police documents alleged that Mr. Nicholl helped facilitate a purge of government records.

"It looks like the Liberals are in full-time damage control mode over the whole scandal," said NDP MPP Peter Tabuns.

Mr. Nicholl was appointed acting deputy minister on Feb. 19, putting him in charge of the province's archival records. He remains in his role as Ontario's corporate chief information officer, earning $302,504 last year.

Mr. Nicholl did not respond to telephone messages and e-mails on Wednesday.

As first reported by The Globe, Mr. Nicholl gave the go-ahead for Mr. Livingston to erase computer hard drives in the premier's office. His alleged role is contained in police documents unsealed by an Ottawa judge last Thursday after The Globe and Mail and other media fought for their release.

Police believe Mr. Livingston committed a criminal breach of trust by allowing Mr. Faist, a non-government IT professional and boyfriend of Mr. Livingston's deputy, to gain "unrestricted" access to documents on 24 hard drives in the premier's office. Mr. Livingston's lawyer, Brian Gover, has said his client did nothing wrong.

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The Ontario Provincial Police's anti-rackets branch is probing the alleged deletion of government records. The allegations contained in the documents, based on police interviews with government staffers and bureaucrats, have not been tested in court.

Mr. Nicholl, who was interviewed by police, is not under investigation, according to the documents.

The documents describe events during Mr. McGuinty's final days in office. Mr. Nicholl got involved in late January, 2013, when Mr. Livingston sought permission from senior bureaucrats to access all the computers in the premier's office and "wipe clean" the hard drives, the documents allege.

Bureaucrats decided at a meeting on Jan. 30 to find out if anyone in the premier's office already had access to the computers. Mr. Nicholl, who attended that meeting, told police that everyone agreed to grant Mr. Livingston's request. But four other bureaucrats at the meeting denied this, the documents say.

Information technology managers told police that, the same day, Mr. Nicholl told them to set up the access for Mr. Livingston. Mr. Nicholl denied this, the documents allege: "That conversation was never held," he told police.

No one, including cabinet secretary Peter Wallace, Mr. Nicholl's boss, was aware Mr. Nicholl had gone to the IT managers, the documents allege.

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Mr. Nicholl also told bureaucrats, according to the documents, that seven employees in Mr. McGuinty's office already had administrative access to computers. But he did not explain to them that he had requested more powerful access for Mr. Livingston that would allow him to alter and delete files on all the hard drives, not just on an individual computer, the documents allege.

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About the Author

Karen Howlett is a national reporter based in Toronto. She returned to the newsroom in 2013 after covering Ontario politics at The Globe’s Queen’s Park bureau for seven years. Prior to that, she worked in the paper’s Vancouver bureau and in The Report on Business, where she covered a variety of beats, including financial services and securities regulation. More

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