OTTAWA - The mayor of Huntsville, Ont., says he'll be careful to avoid leaving an email trail next time he does business with a federal minister.
Claude Doughty was embarrassed when the NDP dug up voluminous email correspondence between him and Tony Clement, now Treasury Board president, about the controversial G8 legacy fund.
He says he considers the emails to be private conversations and he'll use the phone in future to avoid leaving a record of such discussions.
Doughty made the remarks during a meeting with several local reporters in Huntsville last week. National news media were barred from the meeting but The Canadian Press has obtained an audio recording of it.
"To me, these emails are conversation ... but they're in a form that's now reproduceable," he said.
"I guess we're all going to go back to telephones."
Clement used his personal email account, which is not covered by the federal Access to Information Act, to converse with Doughty about the legacy fund. Opposition MPs have accused Clement of deliberately using his personal account to "cover his tracks."
However, the NDP managed to uncover the email trail by using Ontario's freedom-of-information legislation to access municipal records.
The emails suggest that Clement micromanaged the distribution of the $50-million fund, set up ostensibly to help his Parry Sound-Muskoka riding host last year's G8 summit and beautify the area.
They show Clement scripted the public comments of municipal officials. He also personally intervened to ensure the flow of federal cheques wouldn't be delayed by a bureaucratic spending review and to ensure an upgraded Huntsville recreation centre would serve as the media centre for the summit, despite police concerns about security.
At times, the emails are gossipy, with Clement and Doughty exchanging observations about other municipal officials in the sprawling cottage country riding.
In last week's meeting with local reporters, Doughty said he wasn't concerned about the content of the emails but would have expressed himself differently had he realized they were going to be made public.
"I was somewhat embarrassed. I mean, sometimes you know you share things that are private conversation that aren't things that you would (say publicly)," he said.
"I didn't guard myself against that when I was communicating that way ... with the minister or anybody else."
Doughty pointed out that the telephone is another mode of electronic communication, but unlike email, phone conversations aren't "reproduceable."
"I guess that stocks in Bell telephone are going to go up because everybody's going to talk on the phone again."
Doughty betrayed some naivete in dealing with the media. When a national reporter showed up at last week's meeting with local reporters, Doughty issued a statement saying it was "a private meeting"and "not a press conference open to all."
Behind the closed doors of the meeting, he continued to insist it wasn't a press conference but eventually allowed local reporters to record it.
Doughty appeared particularly upset about an email he sent Clement informing him that a spending review by Infrastructure Canada was going to delay payment of some claims for renovation of his town's recreation centre by six to eight weeks.
"This is totally unacceptable. I am sure you agree," he wrote.
Clement responded: "I agree. I'm working on it."
That exchange has been interpreted by opposition parties to mean Clement tried to help the town avoid a spending review.
Doughty, however, said all claims were audited numerous times and "not one penny was unaccounted for." The issue, he said, was that the federal government had agreed to reimburse claims within 30 days but took a lot longer than that to actually deliver the cash.
At the time of the email exchange, he explained that the town was in a financial crisis, having borrowed money up to its borrowing limit to finance the renovation. It was counting on the federal government to reimburse it for about $7.4 million and news of the additional payment delay was a blow.
"I mean, we were really strapped. We were looking at, we were looking everywhere for money. We just can't borrow money willy nilly," he said.
"There was a time during that crisis when we virtually could not pay our bills and our employees."