On June 5th, the ongoing Justice Policy Committee inquiry into the Liberal gas scandal cover-up was rocked by the release of a report “Deleting Accountability” by the Information and Privacy Commissioner, Ann Cavoukian. The report found “indiscriminate email deletion in Ontario cabinet ministers’ offices”. I reported on Cavoukian’s report in Parts 44, 45, and 46 of this series. With the release of Cavoukian’s findings, it has become clear that the Committee’s mandate is too narrow and must be updated.
The original mandate of the Committee — a referral from the House — narrowly addressed the question of whether then Energy Minister Chris Bentley was in contempt of the Legislature in his failure to comply with an order of the Speaker to release gas plant documents.
Review of the matter of the Speaker’s finding of a prima facie case of privilege, with respect to the production of documents by the Minister of Energy and the Ontario Power Authority to the Standing Committee on Estimates and to consider and report its observations and recommendations concerning the tendering, planning, commissioning, cancellation, and relocation of the Mississauga and Oakville gas plants. Referred February 20, 2013; March 5, 2013.
New information emerging from Cavoukian’s report, new disclosures by the government to the Committee (most of which have not yet been released but a major new release is expected soon), the testimony last week of another of McGuinty’s lead document destroyers Laura Miller, and ongoing FOI appeals indicates that the scale of the cover-up is far greater than understood at the time the Speaker ruled on Bentley’s contempt.
The picture emerging is that McGuinty created or allowed to be created an information records black operations zone around himself for all substantive matters associated with the gas plants. To conduct official public business, the use of government computers, email accounts, and cell phones was substantially replaced by private computers, email accounts, and cell phones. In some cases, government reverted to a stone-age culture, dumping the use of the printed word in favour of “oral government”. Testimony at the hearing has identified Minister Brad Duguid as particularly liberated from the use of written language.
During the Committee hearings on August 6th, the Liberal members of the Committee, particularly the Committee’s chair Mr. Qaadri, argued that the Committee could not address matters beyond the scope of its referral from the House. This position appears to me soundly argued, although a setback for those of us hungry for answers as to the full scope of the gas scandal.
The Opposition parties have coordinated their work at the Committee with unusual deftness. The Conservatives and NDP need to build on this success by expanding the scope of Committee’s investigation.
The Committee should address not just Bentley’s contempt but the Ontario government’s entire gas plant decision making process.
The questions we need answered include:
When was the last high level meeting dealing with the gas plants when minutes of the meeting were kept? Once this is established, it will be easier to rebuild a chronology of the secret meetings.
Who decided to create an information records black operations zone around the gas plant issues?