TORONTO - A number of emails related to two cancelled gas plants have been recovered by the government, Ontario's information watchdog said Wednesday, even though she was previously told they couldn't be found.
Information and Privacy Commissioner Ann Cavoukian, who released a scathing report June 5 about the deleted emails, said she's "dismayed" that she was "misinformed" by the government.
"I am appalled that we were provided with incorrect information during the course of my investigation, that was misleading," she said in a statement.
"I am, however, very pleased that these records have now been found."
The Ministry of Government Services has accepted full responsibility and will hand over the emails and explain what happened within two weeks, she said.
The emails belonged to Craig MacLennan, former chief of staff to the Minister of Energy who was singled out in Cavoukian's report for violating the Archives and Recordkeeping Act.
She found that senior Liberals broke the law by deleting emails related to the two gas plants in Oakville and Mississauga.
Top Liberals in then-Premier Dalton McGuinty's office not only deleted their emails on the gas plants, but also tried to wipe the data completely from government computers, she concluded.
The report said David Livingston, McGuinty's chief of staff, tried as late as January to find out how to permanently delete emails related to the gas plants.
At the time, Cavoukian said she found it "difficult to accept" that the routine deletion of emails wasn't an attempt by staff to avoid transparency and accountability.
The opposition parties say the emails were wiped out to try to cover up the true costs of cancelling the gas plants, which has grown to an estimated $585 million.
"She proved that there were indeed a slew of missing emails and now, after her being assured — absolutely and definitively — there were absolutely no more, here we go again," said Tory energy critic Vic Fedeli.
Staff in the government services ministry conducted a forensic search of their servers after a legislative committee asked that additional documents related to the gas plants be produced by Tuesday, Fedeli said.
Information technology staff discovered June 28 that part of MacLennan's email account wasn't completely deleted, according to the ministry.
In a letter to Government Services Minister John Milloy, the ministry said MacLennan's emails were found in secondary storage which keeps emails more than 30 days old.
There are no penalties for the former Liberal staffers who deleted their gas plant records in violation of the Archives and Recordkeeping Act. But Ontario Provincial Police are investigating the matter to determine whether any criminal charges should be laid.
Fedeli insists the prospect of jail time forced the government to come clean.
"We've got the OPP investigating and now, two weeks later, new documents," he said. "That's too much of a coincidence for me to accept."
Milloy said ministry staff will provide the records to the committee as soon as possible.
"From Day 1, our new government has been committed to being open, accountable, and transparent," he said in a statement, citing the 130,000 documents and emails the government has provided to the committee.
It's not the first time the governing Liberals have been red-faced over records related to the gas plants, which opposition parties say were cancelled to save Liberal seats in the face of local revolt.
The Liberals' initial reluctance to release documents on the gas plants requested by a committee triggered a rare contempt of parliament motion last fall that ground legislative business to a halt.
The Liberals eventually released over 56,000 pages of documents to comply with a Speaker's order, but twice had to admit they'd found more after insisting all the data had already been released.
McGuinty cited the bitter debate over the contempt motion as one of the reasons for proroguing the legislature when he announced his resignation as premier last October, just hours before public hearings into the gas plants were scheduled to begin.
NDP energy critic Peter Tabuns says he's pleased that some emails have been recovered.
"Try as they might, the government can't sweep this scandal under the carpet," he said. "Once again the Liberal government is being forced to release documents that supposedly didn't exist."
Cavoukian issued her report after the NDP complained that documents they obtained through Freedom of Information requests showed there were no emails for several top McGuinty aides.
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