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Alberta Energy Minister cleared of wrongdoing

Candidate Ted Morton delivers his opening remarks during an Alberta PC Party leadership debate in Calgary, Alta., Wednesday, Sept. 7, 2011.

Jeff McIntosh/The Canadian Press/Jeff McIntosh/The Canadian Press

Alberta's new Energy Minister did not willfully destroy documents or deceptively use a "covert e-mail" address to evade public scrutiny, a provincial investigation has found.

Alberta's Information and Privacy Commissioner said on Tuesday that Ted Morton, former finance and sustainable resource development minister, did not commit any offence under the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act, which the media and special-interest groups often use to get access to government records.

The probe was launched after allegations in a CBC report during Mr. Morton's failed bid for the leadership of the Progressive Conservative Party that his staff deleted e-mails and shredded documents when he left the sustainable resource development portfolio. The story also revealed that he used two government e-mail addresses – one under the name Ted Morton and the other under "Frederick Lee," which is his full given name. A former employee told the news agency that his boss used the Frederick Lee account when he "didn't want people to know it was him doing the writing."

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But Privacy Commissioner Frank Work concluded that the secondary e-mail account was known within the department and among external organizations that communicated with it. The additional account was employed to manage the volume of e-mails to the minister's office, he added.

"The bottom line was we found no evidence of an intent to use this e-mail address to delay or defeat the [legislation]" Mr. Work told reporters in Edmonton.

The documents that were destroyed were deemed to be "transitory records," while all others were regularly sent to the deputy minister and through the provincial tracking system, the probe noted.

"The investigation therefore concludes that Mr. Morton, his staff in the minister's office and communications staff did not willfully conceal or destroy e-mail or other records with the intent to evade a request for access to the records," the report said.

When the investigation was launched, Mr. Morton said he was confident he would be exonerated.

On Tuesday, spokesman Bart Johnson said the minister would not respond to the commissioner's report.

"He believes it speaks for itself," Mr. Johnson said.

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An outside consultant hired to conduct the investigation interviewed 16 people, including senior public servants in Mr. Morton's office and the department. Mr. Morton was not among those interviewed.

The initial news report attracted a lot of media attention when it came out on Sept. 8, little more than a week before the first ballot was cast to select a new Tory leader. Mr. Morton finished a distant fourth and didn't make it to the final ballot, which was won by Alison Redford, who was sworn in as Alberta Premier earlier this month.

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Dawn Walton

Dawn Walton has been based in Calgary for The Globe and Mail since 2000. Before leaving Toronto to head West, she won a National Newspaper Award and was twice nominated for the Michener Award for her work with the Report on Business. More

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