McGuinty Liberals Broke Ontario’s Archives and Recordkeeping Act

McGuinty Liberals Broke Ontario’s Archives and Recordkeeping Act

In the just released report – Deleting Accountability: Record Management Practices of Political Staff – A Special Investigation Report – Ontario’s Information and Privacy Commissioner (Ann Cavoukian) says high-ranking staff in Dalton McGuinty’s liberal government illegally deleted documents tied to the $585M gas plant scandal.

The Commissioner’s investigation was prompted by NDP complaints that key liberal political staff don’t have any records (particularly e-mails) about the closure of gas plants in Mississauga and Oakville before the 2011 election.  Those closures were widely seen as an attempt to save area Liberal candidates from election defeat.

The Commissioner found that David Livingston who ran the Premier’s office under Dalton McGuinty and Craig MacLennan who worked for two energy ministers in the McGuinty government deleted all of their e-mails pertaining to the plant closures.  And before stepping down earlier this year, Mr. Livingston reportedly asked the head of the province’s civil service “how to wipe clean the hard drives in the Premier’s office” and ensure the permanent deletion of electronic records.

The Archives and Recordkeeping Act, 2006 (ARA) – which the McGuinty government enacted – requires the offices of the premier and ministers to save documents and archive them.  However, the Commissioner found no procedures to make sure the then-ministers (and their staff) or the premier’s office staff did that.  While there’s no penalty for these offences (ARA doesn’t provide them), there’s speculation that the deletion of these records could set the stage for contempt of parliament proceedings against the individuals who were involved.

As stated in a press release, the Commissioner’s report makes three recommendations to ensure the retention of records that may be subject to an access request under the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act (FIPPA) or the Municipal Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act (MFIPPA):

  • Office of the Premier and Ministers’ Offices – Require that a directive be issued that a senior official in each minister’s office and the Premier’s office be designated as the person who is accountable for records retention policies and practices, and for ensuring that minsters’ staff receive training on their records management obligations.  The Premier should clearly communicate that these obligations must be taken very seriously, along with her expectation that all staff must comply.
  • Legislative changes – Amend both FIPPA and MFIPPA to address institutions’ responsibilities to ensure that all key decisions are documented and records securely retained – making it a serious offence to wilfully and inappropriately delete records.
  • Records retention policies – Conduct a review of the Archives of Ontario records retention policies and practices that apply to the records management processes in ministers’ officers and the Premier’s office, ensuring that responsibility for retaining official or business records is clearly set out.

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    Often the requirement for a needs assessment is driven by a specific initiative being considered or an immediate problem to be solved, rather than a general desire to establish a corporate (or organization-wide) IM program. We had a client wanting to improve its management of a specific group of critical records – thousands of member files in paper, microform and digital formats containing hundreds of unique document types.
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