Ontario's top bureaucrat says he never imagined that Dalton McGuinty's former chief of staff was serious in wanting to use someone from outside the public service to purge government records.
"It struck me as a stupid comment, and not something that one would reasonably expect any experienced executive to actually contemplate with any seriousness, let alone execute," cabinet secretary Peter Wallace testified on Tuesday.
Mr. Wallace told a committee of the Ontario legislature that he would have acted differently had he known that David Livingston would allegedly allow a non-government IT professional, Peter Faist, to gain "unrestricted" access to 24 hard drives in the Premier's office. Mr. Faist is the boyfriend of Laura Miller, Mr. Livingston's former deputy.
Mr. Wallace has been interviewed by the Ontario Provincial Police twice as part of their probe into the destruction of records in the Premier's office. But he testified that he only learned of Mr. Faist's alleged role when police documents were unsealed last month.
"I was extremely, extremely surprised to learn that there's an allegation that the actions had crossed from a stupid idea, to something really stupid, to what [police say] was potentially criminally stupid," Mr. Wallace testified.
During the "chaotic" events leading up to Mr. McGuinty's final days in office, he testified, Mr. Livingston met with him to ask for special access to desktop computers in the Premier's office.
Mr. Wallace was informed by a senior bureaucrat, David Nicholl, that seven staffers in the Premier's office already had administrative access to computers. Mr. Wallace determined that it was redundant to discuss Mr. Livingston's request any further because there was a precedent for granting staffers access to computers.
But Mr. Nicholl did not explain to Mr. Wallace and other bureacrats that Mr. Livingston was asking for much more powerful access that would allow him to alter and delete files on all the hard drives in the Premier's office, not just on an individual machine, the police documents allege. Mr. Nicholl was recently demoted for his alleged role in the documents purge.
Mr. Wallace testified that he wrote an "extremely bureaucratic memo" to Mr. Livingston, setting out his obligations to protect government records. He also pointed out to Mr. Livingston – someone he described as a businessman, not a politician – the optics of leaving behind a Premier's office with no records.
"This is, to be frank, not something we do every day, and you will not find other memos of this sort," Mr. Wallace said. "It reflects the fact that we were very concerned at this point in time."
The OPP believe Mr. Livingston committed a criminal breach of trust for allegedly giving Mr. Faist permission to "wipe clean" computer hard drives. Mr. Livingston's lawyer has said he did nothing wrong.
Editor's note: an earlier version of this story incorrectly identified Laura Miller, the former deputy to the premier's chief of staff, as Laura Wallace. This story has been corrected.