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IT expert linked to Ontario gas-plant scandal to testify by videoconference

Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne testifies at a committee investigating the cost of power plant cancellations at Queen's Park in Toronto, April 30, 2013.

Kevin Van Paassen/The Globe and Mail

The IT expert swept up in a criminal probe into the alleged destruction of government records has agreed to testify at a committee of the Ontario legislature.

But Peter Faist will not be appearing in person. His lawyer, David Shiller, sent an e-mail on Monday to the clerk of the Standing Committee on Justice Policy, saying Mr. Faist is available for questioning on May 13, by way of videoconference. Mr. Faist moved to Vancouver earlier this month.

Peter Tabuns, a New Democratic member on the committee, which is investigating the cancellation of two gas-fired power plants, said he would prefer to have Mr. Faist appear in person, given how central he is to the police probe.

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"It's just far more effective to have a person in flesh and blood before a committee," Mr. Tabuns said in an interview.

The Ontario Provincial Police is investigating the alleged purging of documents in former premier Dalton McGuinty's office. Police documents unsealed by an Ontario judge last month allege that Mr. McGuinty's former chief of staff, David Livingston, obtained extraordinary access to wipe clean computer hard drives in the premier's office.

An investigator in the government's cybersecurity branch conducted a forensic review to determine what hard drives in the premier's office were accessed using a special password obtained by Mr. Livingston.

The police documents, which have not been tested in court, allege that Mr. Faist logged on to four computers in the premier's office on Feb. 6 and Feb. 7 last year, just days before Kathleen Wynne was sworn in as Mr. McGuinty's successor. An investigator in the cyber security branch was unable to determine when Mr. Faist logged on to the other 20 computers.

Mr. Faist is an IT professional and the boyfriend of Laura Miller, Mr. Livingston's former deputy. Mr. Livingston resigned Feb. 11 of last year, the same day Ms. Wynne was sworn in as Premier. The special password was in place until March 20.

"We want to know what directions he was given, when he carried them out and exactly what he did," Mr. Tabuns said.

Ms. Miller, now the executive director of the B.C. Liberal Party, has also agreed to testify for a second time before the committee. Her lawyer, Brian Shiller (brother of David Shiller) wrote to the clerk of the committee on Monday, saying Ms. Miller is available to testify, in person, on May 8.

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Mr. Livingston, Ms. Miller and Mr. Faist have all refused to co-operate with police, OPP Det. Constable André Duval told the Justice Committee this month. Ms. Miller's lawyer told The Globe she would only agree to an interview if police assured her nothing she said would be used against her. Police declined, he said.

Police believe Mr. Livingston committed a criminal breach of trust by allowing Mr. Faist, a non-government employee, to gain "unrestricted" access to computer hard drives. Mr. Livingston's lawyer has said he did nothing wrong.

Mr. Faist and Ms. Miller are not under investigation. Testimony before a legislative committee cannot be used against an individual in a criminal proceeding.

Ms. Miller was among several Ontario Liberals who came west for roles in the B.C. Liberal re-election effort in May, 2013, when the party won a fourth straight majority.

In a recent statement, party president Sharon White hailed Ms. Miller for "tirelessly" working in politics over the past decade "gaining a well-earned reputation for hard work and integrity."

Ms. Miller has declined to comment publicly since the release of the police documents.

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Her lawyer said his client welcomed the opportunity to assist the committee.

"She is grateful to be given this opportunity to appear and she is happy to co-operate," Brian Shiller said.

Both Mr. Faist and Ms. Miller have agreed to testify after the Ontario government hands down its budget on May 1. The Progressive Conservatives have already said they will not support the budget, leaving it up to the NDP to prop up the minority Liberals. If an election is called, the committee hearings will be cancelled.

Follow on Twitter:  @kahowlett and @ianabailey

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About the Authors

Karen Howlett is a national reporter based in Toronto. She returned to the newsroom in 2013 after covering Ontario politics at The Globe’s Queen’s Park bureau for seven years. Prior to that, she worked in the paper’s Vancouver bureau and in The Report on Business, where she covered a variety of beats, including financial services and securities regulation. More

B.C. reporter

Ian Bailey is a Vancouver-based reporter for The Globe and Mail.  He covers politics and general news. Prior to arriving at The Globe and Mail, he reported from Toronto and St. John’s for The Canadian Press.  He has also covered British Columbia for CP, The National Post and The Province. More

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