06/18/2013 04:06 EDT | Updated 08/17/2013 05:12 EDT

Former McGuinty chief of staff Chris Morley says rules required emails be wiped

TORONTO - There are dozens of reasons for government employees to delete emails, a top aide to former Ontario premier Dalton McGuinty's testified Tuesday at a legislative committee probing the Liberals' $585-million decisions to cancel gas plants in Oakville and Mississauga.

"It’s critically important that we talk about what the actual rules are, because there are people on this committee who have suggested that it is never appropriate or OK for any member of the Ontario public service or any political staffer to delete a note, and that is simply false," said Chris Morley, McGuinty's former chief of staff.

"I could go on and on and on, but time prohibits me from reading all 99 reasons why the rules require the destruction and deletion of records."

Sparring frequently with Progressive Conservatives and New Democrats on the justice committee, a combative Morley testified he did not keep all of his records because the rules on transitory records, drafts and working documents told him not to.

"Mr. Fedeli, I am actually fairly disinterested whether you show me respect in this chair or not," said Morley during one of several exchanges with PC energy critic Vic Fedeli.

"He was playing hard and fast with the wording," Fedeli complained after the hearing.

"Very clearly the coverup on the deleted and destroyed emails continues."

The opposition parties accuse the Liberals of destroying emails in an attempt to cover up the true cost of cancelling the gas plants, which the Liberals had claimed was $230 million — $190 million for Mississauga and $40 million for Oakville.

The Liberals cancelled the plants to save seats in the 2011 election, when they were reduced to a minority, and shouldn't try to defend themselves by saying the opposition parties would have done the same thing, said NDP energy critic Peter Tabuns.

"Mr. Morley, this Liberal attempt to try to say everyone was responsible when it was you guys who created the mess and then had to clean it up to save your own political hides, you know, it just doesn’t wash," said Tabuns.

NDP house leader Gilles Bisson also squared off against Morley during the hearing, and said he personally witnessed the former premier's chief of staff taking detailed notes during meetings.

"So you had notes for teachers, you have notes for other things, but not on the gas plants," asked an incredulous Bisson.

"How is anybody listening to this testimony going to believe that you took notes on everything but the gas plants? Doesn’t that leave a huge hole you can drive a Mack truck through, and call into question your credibility?"

Outside the hearing, Morley accused the opposition parties of trying to portray the Liberals as criminals for deleting their emails on the gas plants.

"I think what we’ve established today is some of the members are playing a bit fast and loose with the rules, and either don’t know what they are, or don’t care," he said.

"There were not all that many documents created in the premier’s office regarding this because the Ministry of Energy and the OPA (Ontario Power Authority) were essentially the sources of information."

Information and privacy commissioner Ann Cavoukian recently concluded that senior Liberals broke the law by deleting email accounts, but Morley told the committee he had "followed the law" in managing his documents while working for the premier.

"She never discussed her report with me. She never approached me to ask how I manage my records," Morley testified.

"So as far as I’m concerned, that report has nothing to do with me."

Morley admitted he did turn over 300 documents on Monday, more than a year after he left the premier's office, although he said none was related to the gas plants.

The provincial police are investigating Conservative complaints filed after Cavoukian reported that top Liberals in McGuinty's office not only deleted their emails on the gas plants, but also tried to wipe the data completely from government computers.

The Conservatives complained that Premier Kathleen Wynne's earlier testimony at the committee "strained the bounds of credibility," and said other Liberal witnesses showed what PC Leader Tim Hudak called "a troubling case of collective amnesia."