The Ontario Provincial Police will investigate the deletion of government records by Liberal political staff amid evidence that several top aides to former premier Dalton McGuinty erased e-mails that could have provided details on the costly cancellations of two gas-fired power plants.
Mr. McGuinty, for his part, denied Friday that he had ordered the documents deleted.
Earlier this week, the province's information and privacy commissioner revealed that Mr. McGuinty's chief of staff, David Livingston, asked the head of the civil service how to "wipe clean the hard drives in the Premier's Office" shortly before Mr. McGuinty stepped down. Mr. Livingston and Craig MacLennan, chief of staff to two former energy ministers, also deleted all their e-mails.
"I was unaware of discussions between government staff and the Ontario Public Service regarding the deletion of documents," Mr. McGuinty wrote in his first public statement since the revelations. "And at no time did I condone or direct the deletion of e-mails or documents which ought to have been preserved."
But he admitted his government "did not devote adequate resources or attention" to making sure records were saved.
In a letter to the Progressive Conservatives, who asked him to intervene, OPP Commissioner Chris Lewis said Friday he had referred the matter to the force's criminal investigative services branch "for investigation."
A response to a freedom of information request by the New Democrats, meanwhile, indicates that e-mail deletion went beyond Mr. Livingston and Mr. MacLennan. Chris Morley, who preceded Mr. Livingston as Mr. McGuinty's chief of staff; Jamison Steeve, Mr. McGuinty's principal secretary; and Sean Mullin, a policy adviser in his office, also had their correspondence wiped clean.
And it appears they did not erase the e-mails themselves.
Mr. Steeve and Mr. Mullin – who were both involved in discussions on one of the cancelled gas plants – had their e-mail accounts deleted on Aug. 17, 2012. By that time, Mr. Mullin had not worked in the premier's office for 10 months, and Mr. Steeve had been gone six weeks.
A spokesman for Premier Kathleen Wynne said that, during Mr. McGuinty's tenure, IT staff would periodically delete the e-mail accounts of employees who had left. It was up to individual staffers to make sure documents were saved before they departed.
After Ms. Wynne became premier, said one government source, all political aides were ordered not to delete their e-mails.
The information commissioner found that the Liberals' practices contravened transparency laws the party itself had brought in. Under these rules, each government office was supposed to submit a plan for saving documents and eventually transferring them to the provincial archives. But Mr. McGuinty's office did not do this.
The government cancelled the gas plants at a cost of $585-million in what was seen as a political play to win votes in the 2011 election.