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Rules governing record retention confusing: McGuinty

Former premier Dalton McGuinty told a legislative committee looking into the cancelled GTA gas plants that the rules governing the retention of emails are confusing.

“The rules here are confusing and they cry out for clarity — what to destroy and what to preserve is today a matter of judgement.” he said Tuesday afternoon.

The committee is probing the controversial decision to axe the two gas plants in Oakville and Mississauga that have cost taxpayers at least $585 million.

McGuinty was referring to the Archives and Recordkeeping Act that his Liberal government passed in 2006, and which the information and privacy commissioner said his staffers had violated by deleting all emails relating to the cancelled gas plants in Oakville and Mississauga.

He also suggested that going forward training for government and political staff wouldn’t be enough, and wants clearer rules to help them determine what should be kept for the archives. He mentioned a cabinet office directive issued by the civil service required that emails be purged when staffers leave.

The Opposition parties have argued the email purge was to help cover up their total cost.

When Opposition members on the committee said that McGuinty’s senior staff didn’t follow the act that his government implemented, he said he was “focused heavily” on creating more jobs, getting wait times down in Ontario and ensuring better student test scores.

“So I don’t give much thought to the archives act; I don’t give much thought to the management of emails,” he said.

NDP Peter Tabuns told McGuinty that “it takes a lot of work to go around and delete.”

“In fact your chief of staff Mr. [David] Livingston wiped out everything. The former chief of staff [Chris] Morley seemed to wipe out everything,” Tabuns said. “There isn’t a single document that will back up your assertion that you made a decision around the gas plants for environmental reasons.”

McGuinty, who testified that it was wrong to locate the plants in those communities but right to relocate them, said that more than 130,000 documents have been made available to date.

The former premier who resigned his MPP seat earlier this month said the hearings were a partisan exercise, and should “not lend unwarranted credibility and weight to the work of this committee.”

Earlier on Tuesday, the privacy commissioner said testimony by McGuinty’s former chief of staff about the deletion of gas plants related emails were misleading and a misinterpretation of facts.

Last week, Chris Morley told the committee  there are 99 different reasons listed in the Ontario Public Service rule book that instruct government staff to “destroy immediately” several types of records, including emails.

“His focus was entirely on the deletion of records not with their retention and the suggestion that there, and I quote, ‘were 99 reasons why the rules required the destruction of records’  was in my view a misinterpretation of the facts,” Ann Cavoukian said during an appearance before the judicial committee earlier on Tuesday.

Cavoukian said the only reference to records destruction in the Archives and Recordkeeping Act are a handful of provisions telling people not to delete records.

To suggest there are 99 circumstances why the destruction of records were required “is highly misleading” she said.

In June, Cavoukian issued her report after investigating a complaint by the NDP’s Tabuns that concluded Liberal staffers, namely the former chief of staff to the energy minister and the former chief of staff to McGuinty, improperly deleted all emails about the gas plants.

“I concluded that email practices at both the minister’s office and the former premier’s office were in clear violation set out in the Archives and Recordkeeping Act,” she said.

Cavoukian told the committee on Tuesday that her office will be meeting with the OPP on Wednesday, which has launched an investigation into the cancelled plants, and will be “fully co-operating.”

“If they are in a position to be able to retrieve some of those records…I’d welcome that,” she said, adding she thought it was unlikely they would unearth them.