Alberta health minister defends handling of AHS in wake of scathing resignation letter
Vickie Kaminski, Alberta Health Services president and CEO. (Codie McLachlan/Edmonton Sun)
Health Minister Sarah Hoffman defended her government’s handling of AHS matters Wednesday as “doing our job” — not political interference, as the agency’s former chief executive officer wrote in a scathing resignation letter.
“Public health care is public business and I’m very proud of the fact that we have a government that believes that,” Hoffman told reporters.
Opposition critics panned the government’s “meddling” in the arm’s-length organization and said a dysfunctional relationship between the AHS board and the health ministry should be fixed.
The health authority has had eight CEOs since it was formed in 2008. The search continues to replace the most recent boss, Vicki Kaminski, who publicly claimed her resignation was a “personal decision” last November. She left in January.
But in her resignation letter, Kaminski said she left halfway through her contract, which paid a base salary of $540,000 a year, because of the NDP government’s “troubling” practice of micro-managing and second-guessing her decisions and administration.
According to a letter obtained by CBC News, Kaminski wrote to the new AHS board that she felt the government’s heavy-handedness was putting her professional reputation in jeopardy.
“There are many examples of how this has played out over the past several months,” she wrote in the letter, according to CBC. “Some of the examples transcend both the former government and the newly elected government of Alberta.
“More recently however, many (examples of political interference) are simply rooted in an ideology of the new government that does not allow AHS to do what needs to be, and should be done,” Kaminski wrote.
Hoffman said Wednesday her job is to talk to the AHS board about policy direction so they can take the appropriate administrative action.
“The government has a responsibility to set budgets and policy, and the administration has a job to deliver on that to the best outputs within their mandate, and I think that we have that now,” she said.
Current AHS board chair Linda Hughes said in a statement that Kaminski’s letter, which was dated two days before her resignation was made public, “looks backwards and is not reflective of the present day.”
“Keeping Albertans healthy is the goal for all of us and this requires a team approach with many partners, including AHS, the AHS board and Alberta Health. We value this partnership and team approach, and we are working together in a productive and collaborative manner,” Hughes wrote.
Kaminski detailed several concerns in her letter, one of which was the health ministry’s tendency to write “cryptic emails” and state that more would be said in “voice mode,” ensuring there would be no paper trail.
Opposition leader Brian Jean said in question period that this shows the government is trying to work in secret, serving themselves and not the public.
“Running a government without a paper trail is simply not ethical,” he said.
Kaminski also claimed the NDP government interfered with contract negotiations with the Alberta Union of Provincial Employees, according to the CBC report.
Liberal interim leader David Swann said the poor relationship between the ministry and AHS has to be corrected.
“It’s costing too much in terms of low morale, inefficiencies and lost opportunities for better care. It just has to stop,” he said, adding that the Health Quality Council of Alberta made recommendations four years ago to clarify the roles and responsibilities of each side.
“It’s supposed to be arm’s-length. (The government is) not supposed to be involved in the delivery of services; they’re supposed to be setting the policies and the long-term direction and the principles on which decisions are made, not meddling in the affairs of the delivery of the system.”
Kaminski signed up for a three-year term as CEO after leaving a similar position with the Eastern Regional Health Authority in Newfoundland and Labrador. She now works in Australia as the chief transformation officer for the Australian government’s SA Health agency, based in Adelaide.
Last October, Hoffman publicly affirmed that the AHS board reports to her and that AHS will operate in “close connection” to the government, rather than as an arm’s-length agency.
AHS boards have previously been plagued with confusion over how much autonomy they could exercise, a problem that played a role in the dispute that got the previous 10-member board fired in 2013.
“I don’t think that strategy worked with the past government,” Hoffman said in October.
“There will be responsibilities the board has, but I know the buck stops with the minister and I’m fine with that.”
With files from Keith Gerein
May 15, 2008: Health minister Ron Liepert announces the creation of Alberta Health Services, a single, centralized health authority built on a corporate model of governance. Liepert later says caucus made the decision in one day, with dissolution of regional boards made overnight.
January 2009: The province announces it has tapped Australian health policy expert Stephen Duckett as AHS’s first chief executive. Ken Hughes is named board chair.
November 2010: At the height of an ER crisis, Duckett famously walks past reporters and refuses to answer questions saying he was too busy eating a cookie. The superboard boss — who later says he was muzzled by government from speaking to media about the emergency department concerns — is pushed out. Duckett’s departure sparks a massive board shakeup as four AHS board members step down, charging political interference.
April 2011: Anesthesiologist and longtime Calgary health administrator Dr. Chris Eagle is named CEO in Duckett’s place. He promises a new, more decentralized structure. Five new zones are set up.
February 2012: Health Quality Council of Alberta CEO Dr. John Cowell releases a damning 428-page report that raises concerns about dangerously long emergency room waits, a culture of “fear and alienation” and political interference.
September 2012: The province appoints businessman and AHS board member Stephen Lockwood as the new AHS board chairman, taking the place of Ken Hughes, who’d stepped aside to run in the provincial election. Lockwood later runs afoul of government.
June 2013: Health minister Fred Horne fires Lockwood and the entire 10-member board in a dispute over executive pay. He immediately names veteran health administrator Janet Davidson to a new role: AHS official administrator. From the nine regional boards five years earlier, authority for the operations of the entire health system is consolidated into the hands of one individual.
September 2013: A blistering AHS governance review in hand, Horne undertakes another health authority executive shakeup, ordering the agency to drastically cut its vice-presidents ranks, dismiss five top executives and refine its entire health management structure. Horne appoints Davidson deputy minister of health. Health watchdog Dr. John Cowell takes the job as AHS official administrator.
March 2014: Vickie Kaminski, a health-care executive from Newfoundland and Labrador, is appointed president and chief executive of AHS.
September 2014: Davidson takes over again, as interim official administrator after Cowell’s one-year term ends.
November 2014: Carl Amrhein, provost and vice-president (academic) at the University of Alberta, becomes official administrator of AHS. His term is due to end in June 2015.
March 18, 2015: Health minister Stephen Mandel announces the province will set up eight to 10 new health districts by July 1. Each district will receive advice from a local advisory board.
May 2015: The NDP defeat the Tories in the provincial election, and move quickly to cancel Mandel’s plan to reorganize AHS. New Health Minister Sarah Hoffman says she is reviewing governance options for the health authority.
Aug. 25, 2015: Former Lethbridge mayor David Carpenter is appointed as the new AHS administrator for Carl Amrhein, who becomes deputy minister of health.
Oct. 23, 2015: Hoffman announces AHS will again be overseen by a board, this time led by former Edmonton Journal publisher and University of Alberta chancellor Linda Hughes. The new structure has six members with an unknown number of aboriginal leaders to be added at a later date.
Shauna McHarg went through all the "proper" channels for getting her ban lifted and what did these years of effort do for her? It kept her busy while the GOA did what it does so well which is simply ignore the most vulnerable citizens and their advocates.
The Shauna McHarg case is illuminating because it teaches citizens that if you do what the health ministers tell you to do which is
Horne said people can file complaints with Alberta Health Services and Alberta's ombudsman. (CHED)
--well you just enter the bureaucratic maze and spend years ending up at dead ends.
Shauna went to Covenant Health and they did nothing.
Shauna went to AHS and Carl Amrhein wrote to her saying that the documents she needed to file an appeal were transitory documents and were gone.
Shauna went to the Ombudsman who told everyone she had been treated unfairly.
Shauna went to the Office of the Information and Privacy Commissioner who also told her she should get documents but as I mentioned before they were gone because AHS or Covenant Health or both don't feel that a case of banning that is being contested requires that documents be kept.
It's all such a set up that I think there is material here to write for years about political and bureaucratic expediency that simply disrespects citizens completely.
All very neat.
But perhaps for folks in such situations--not so neat.
And where is Shauna now?
I guess she is still waiting for Sarah Hoffman to get off her duff and do something for banned visitors. Good luck with that Shauna.
EDMONTON - Family members of some long-term care patients in Alberta say managers have barred them from seeing their loved ones.Several people spoke out at an Edmonton news conference Thursday saying
LikeShow more reactions
Published: June 10th, 2013
One of the enduring myths of computing — at least among IT novices — is you can never completely erase what’s on a hard drive.
There are forensic experts armed with super secret software, goes this belief, who can find what ever you want to destroy – if it’s not on the hard drives, its on the servers, or the routers or the backups or somewhere.
Troll the Internet and you’ll find experienced forensic experts who boast they can find the smoking gun within the most complex matters.
But Ontario’s privacy commissioner discovered that wasn’t true in a case of destroyed email now being investigated by the provincial police.
The criminal investigation was opened Friday after privacy commissioner Ann Cavoukian issued an incendiary report about the deletion of email by Craig MacLennan, the former chief of staff to the energy minister, which she said violated provincial law.
In an interview Friday Cavoukian was openly skeptical of the explanation that it was merely an attempt to keep email inboxes clean at the end of every day.
“Give me a break,” she said. “It’s unbelievable. It strains credulity.”
“I think everyone knows you’re not allowed to delete every single email. If you work in the public sector, everyone has been informed of their obligation to keep some records.”
Alex Ferworn, computer science professor and academic co-ordinator for the certificate course in computer security and digital forensics at Toronto’s Ryerson University, said in an interview he is “shocked and outraged” at the incident.
“It’s so slipshod. You would expect a smooth running machine, but it’s not.”
The deletions are politically charged because the opposition alleges the moves were an attempt by the former government of Liberal Dalton McGinty to cover up the true cost of cancelling two proposed unpopular urban power plants in the Toronto area.
A legislative committee had demanded the government produce relevant documents and became suspicious when it learned MacLennan – who was involved in negotiating the with the power plant builders — had a policy of routinely emptying his email inbox daily.
In fact he had a policy of not keeping anything on paper, either.
In her report, Cavoukian said MacLennan told her his actions were not an attempt to evade handing over records to the legislature committee, nor to evade access to information requests. In fact, he believed all email was backed up and could be accessed.
The ministry of government services –which oversees the provincial IT departments –didn’t archive mail on its Microsoft Exchange servers, Cavoukian found. Backup tapes of email were made at the end of each day – but only of mail not deleted, and the tapes were held only for one day before they are recorded over. Essentially it was a 24 hour disaster recovery process.
The only exception was for email in the Premier’s office, where backup tapes were held for 10 days.
“That surprised me,” Cavoukian said in the interview. “I thought it’s impossible to delete an email.”
But with 90,000 email accounts across the entire government, she was told, it’s impossible to backup everything. And trying to reconstruct data held on the RAID servers was next to impossible, which was verified by an independent forensic consultant she hire.
Bureaucrat and political staff are expected to use their judgment on whether electronic or paper should be deleted. The rules on complying with the provincial Archives and Record Keeping Act and the Freedom of Information and Privacy Protection Act (FIPPA) are clearly covered under material available from the ministry of government services.
But, Cavoukian said in her report, there is no obligation to make the government’s political staff – like the chiefs of staff – to take document retention training.
So, as Cavoukian discovered, when email is deleted in Ontario government offices, it’s gone — unless backup policies have recently changed.in light of her report.
Her report only dealt with provincial policies on email backup. It didn’t go into IT policies covering digital files. Regardless, provincial legislation puts an obligation on employees to keep necessary documents.
The controversy touches on a number of IT-related issues including record keeping policies, backup policies and how staff organization are informed of their legal and regulatory document retention obligations.
In some ways, Cavoukain, said, the email deletion incident was similar to the loss by Elections Ontario staff last year of USB keys with personal information on some 4 million voters. In that case, as the email deletions, there was a government policy that was supposed to be followed — encrypt data on mobile devices.
The difference, Cavoukian said, was the Elections Canada mess was an accident. “In this case (involving the deletion of email) I can’t make that conclusion… There seemed to be a culture of avoiding the creation of written or electronic records.”
But she added, the Secretary of the Cabinet – who in effect runs the bureaucracy — told her that the deputy minister of energy’s staff offered their assistance to MacLennan and his staff to help comply with the government’s records retention policy.
For his part MacLennan told Cavoukian he was unaware of the policy.
“It would appear that a large part of the problem in this investigation is that MacLennan claimed not to have understood that email is a form of communication that must be managed no differently than any other record,.” Cavoukian wrote in her report.
In the interview with IT World Canada she agreed with a suggestion that when people take over a sensitive job they should sign a document that they understand the organization’s document retention policy.
But policies aren’t enough. Cavoukian noted last fall she issued a report on how organizations can ensure privacy policies in public and private sectors have teeth.
In her report last week Cavoukian recommended the ministry of government services make sure all provincial staff understand their responsibility for keeping business records.
She also urged current Premier Kathleen Wynne – who has called the email deletions unacceptable — develop policies and procedures to ensure that ministers’ staff are fully trained on their records management obligations.
She also recommends provincial and municipal freedom of information legislation make it an offence for any person to willfully destroy records the acts cover.
For his part, Ryerson’s Ferworn said best practices for document retention include codifying corporate practices, then translating it into action.
“If you don’t do that it’s like having a piece of paper you might as well throw away.”
(Update: The Globe and Mail reported this morning that the email accounts of several staffers in former Premier McGinty’s office were purged in 2012, several weeks after the legislative committee asked the government for all documents in the gas plant controversy.
The Globe article doesn’t say whether copies of their documents were retained as required by provincial legislation.
Cavoukian’s report looked into word that McGinty’s chief of staff, David Livingston, asked earlier this year how email could be permanently deleted from PCs after McGinty announced his resignation. Apparently Livingston wanted to make sure the computers were wiped before being used by other staffers.
Livingston was told by the cabinet secretary and Ontario’s CIO that before there was any deletion there was an obligation to follow retention rules.)
Read more: http://www.itworldcanada.com/article/ontario-government-in-email-deletion-scandal/47877#ixzz4jVwQPoui
or visit http://www.itworldcanada.com for more Canadian IT News
Mass deletion of Ontario gas plant emails by senior Liberal staff now a police investigation
Keith Leslie, The Canadian Press | June 7, 2013 3:46 PM ET
Peter J. Thompson / National Post filesFormer Ontario Premier and Liberal Party Leader Dalton McGuinty testifies at Toronto's Queens Park regarding the cancelled gas power plants.
Mass deletion of Ontario gas plant emails by senior Liberal staff now a police investigation
TORONTO — The Ontario Provincial Police have launched a criminal probe into the destruction of emails about the cancellation of two gas plants by senior Liberal staff.
The province’s privacy watchdog issued a scathing report this week saying they broke the law by deleting emails on cancelled gas plants in Oakville and Mississauga.
OPP Commissioner Chris Lewis says he’s referred the matter to the Criminal Investigation Services and will interview people named in the report.
He says it’s hard to say how long it may take before police determine whether any criminal charges should be laid.
Premier Kathleen Wynne said Thursday that the mass email deletions by Dalton McGuinty’s staff were unacceptable and current staff have been made aware of their record retention obligations.
Galit Rodan / Bloomberg filesPremier Kathleen Wynne said Thursday that the mass email deletions by Dalton McGuinty's staff were unacceptable and current staff have been made aware of their record retention obligations.
The New Democrats said McGuinty should testify under oath before a legislative committee about the destruction of emails.
NDP energy critic Peter Tabuns said the party has formally requested that McGuinty appear at the justice committee hearings into cancelled gas plants in Mississauga and Oakville to explain the mass deletion of emails on the two projects.
“Dalton McGuinty needs to come back and answer this new information from the privacy commissioner,” said Tabuns.
Ontario’s information and privacy commissioner reported this week that McGuinty’s chief of staff, David Livingston, tried in January to find out how to permanently delete the electronic records from government databases.
“His chief of staff asked for information to destroy all the records on computers, and frankly we need to know did (McGuinty) tell him to do that,” said Tabuns.
Aaron Lynett / National PostThe cancelled Mississauga gas-fired power plant.
“On the other hand, did (McGuinty) in fact make it clear to him that information had to be preserved and the law followed?”
Even though McGuinty left the premier’s office in late January, he remains the MPP for Ottawa South, but he has only shown up in the legislature twice this year, for votes on the minority government’s Throne Speech and the budget motion.
Sitting members can’t be compelled to testify at committee, but Tabuns said he expects Premier Kathleen Wynne to force the former premier to show up.
“Kathleen Wynne has made it very clear that if people have questions about those emails with regard to the former premier, he should be asked,” said Tabuns. “She should make sure that that member of her caucus appears and answers questions.”
McGuinty’s office said Friday that he was not available to comment, and declined to answer questions on whether or not he would agree to testify about the deleted emails.
Wynne’s office said she has been very clear about wanting to be open and transparent on the gas plants files, and noted both the current and former premier had already made appearances at the justice committee hearings.
However, a statement Friday from the premier’s office did not say if she would compel McGuinty to make a second committee appearance.
The opposition parties say the emails were wiped out by the Liberals to try to cover up the true costs of cancelling the gas plants, which has grown to an estimated $585 million, well above the $230 million the government had claimed.
The Progressive Conservatives, meanwhile, confirmed they had asked the OPP to investigate the deletion of the emails as theft of government property.
“We’re here to stand up for the taxpayers of Ontario and we have to know how much this is going to cost,” said PC critic Monte McNaughton.
“Whoever covered this up, quite frankly should go to jail.”
In addition to McGuinty and Livingston, Tabuns said the NDP also want the committee to hear from several other senior Liberals whose email accounts were deleted, including Craig MacLennan, the former chief of staff to the minister of energy.
Dalton McGuinty lands part-time job at PricewaterhouseCoopers
PricewaterhouseCoopers hires Dalton McGuinty two years after he quit as Ontario premier amid a 1.1-billion gas plants scandal.
Former Ontario premier Dalton McGuinty has been hired by PricewaterhouseCoopers Canada for a part-time job. (LUCAS OLENIUK / TORONTO STAR FILE PHOTO)
By ROB FERGUSONQueen's Park Bureau
Wed., Jan. 21, 2015
Business consulting firm PricewaterhouseCoopers Canada has hired Dalton McGuinty in a part-time role two years after he quit as premier amid a firestorm over his government’s $1.1-billion gas plants scandal and soured relations with teachers.
McGuinty, a lawyer who became premier in 2003 and was Ottawa South MPP for 23 years, is serving as a senior adviser providing “strategic advice” to clients, PwC said in a statement Wednesday.
“My lengthy leadership experience, combined with PwC’s reputation for helping clients solve their important problems, really complement each other,” McGuinty said in a statement.
He will work two to three days a week.
During his three terms as premier, McGuinty bolstered health care and education and led the province on an expansion of its electricity system that proved troublesome with natural gas-fired power plants opposed by residents in Oakville and Mississauga.
He cancelled the Oakville plant in October 2010 and waited until less than two weeks before the October 2011 election — in which his Liberals were reduced to a minority government — to scrap the Mississauga facility, prompting opposition parties to charge he was saving Liberal seats at taxpayers’ expense.
The scandal continues to dog the Liberal government with a widening OPP investigation into the deletion of emails and documents related to the cancellations.
McGuinty also led trade missions to China, India, Israel and Lebanon and registered last year as a provincial lobbyist for school software company Desire2Learn.
“Dalton brings vast experience, strategic thinking and a unique understanding of many of the markets in which we are looking to grow,” Tahir Ayub, markets and industries leader for PwC Canada, said in a statement.
Read more about:
Email scandal uncovered a culture of 'delete, delete, delete' in B.C. government
John Horgan says issue is not about politics, it's about accountability
CBC News Posted: Oct 22, 2015 5:09 PM PT Last Updated: Oct 22, 2015 5:09 PM PT
Staffers in the B.C. government have been found to 'triple delete' their emails. (iStock)
The B.C. government is coming under heavy fire following the release of a report that revealed a culture of deleting emails in order to skirt freedom of information laws.
Speaking on CBC.'s B.C. Almanac Thursday, NDP leader John Horgan expressed disbelief at the level of suppression of information B.C.'s Privacy Officer Elizabeth Denham's report uncovered.
"[Cadario has] been cited as having no records," Horgan said. "Working in a location for two years and not one single email? You, the second most powerful person in the premier's office and you don't use email? That's hard to get your head around."
Denham's report, Access Denied, found that Michele Cadario, deputy chief of staff in the premier's office, routinely deleted emails in contravention of laws protecting the public's right to hold politicians accountable for their actions.
Denham also found that a staffer in the transportation ministry, George Gretes, could face charges after he lied under oath when he denied that he intentionally deleted emails and records connected to the Highway of Tears.
Delete, delete, delete
"People need to understand that it's not just about politics," Horgan said. "We're supposed to have freedom of information so the public understands why their government was making decisions on their behalf.
"Instead what the B.C. Liberals have done is make a culture of delete, delete, delete. They're scouring their computers at the end of the day so the public doesn't know what they're up to."
Also speaking on B.C. Almanac, freelance investigative journalist and FOI expert, Bob Mackin, said he believed today's revelations would prove to be "just the tip of the iceberg".
He also questioned the appointment of former B.C. Privacy Officer David Loukadelis as an advisor to help the government get back on track.
"He's been brought in at the expense of the taxpayer when they already have Elizabeth Denham who's already made so many recommendations that have fallen on deaf ears," he said.
"Why don't they just adopt everything she's already said?"
Triple delete: Former ministry staffer George Gretes charged in scandal
Staffer allegedly 'triple deleted' emails linked to freedom of information requests
By Mike Laanela, CBC News Posted: Mar 11, 2016 11:35 AM PT Last Updated: Mar 11, 2016 3:25 PM PT
According to the privacy commissioner's report, triple deleting means first moving an email to the computer system's 'deleted' folder, expunging the email from the folder itself, and then manually overriding a backup that allows the system to recover deleted items for up to 14 days. (Getty Images)
Charges have been laid against a former B.C. government staffer in connection with the so-called triple-delete email scandal.
George Steven Gretes has been charged with two counts of wilfully making false statements to mislead, or attempt to mislead, under the province's Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act.
It's alleged he told a colleague in Transportation Minister Todd Stone's office to delete emails linked to freedom of information requests.
The police investigation was launched after Privacy Commissioner Elizabeth Denham interviewed Gretes under oath as part of her investigation into the scandal.
Her report said he lied under oath when he denied that he intentionally deleted Highway of Tears emails and records. Gretes resigned after Denham's report was referred to the RCMP for investigation.
The charges were approved by special prosecutor Mark Jette, who was appointed by the government to work with the RCMP on its investigation into the scandal.
Delete, delete, delete
The scandal broke in May 2015 when former B.C. government staffer Tim Duncan revealed more than a dozen emails were deleted in November 2014 following a freedom of information request relating to the Highway of Tears, a stretch of road notorious for cases of missing and murdered women.
Whistleblower Tim Duncan alerted the privacy commissioner about the email deletions. (CBC News)
In the letter, Duncan says that when he protested over an instruction to delete the emails, a ministerial assistant took hold of his keyboard and did it himself.
"When I hesitated, he took away my keyboard, deleted the emails and returned the keyboard, stating, 'It's done. Now you don't have to worry about it anymore,'" Duncan wrote in the letter.
When his concerns continued to be dismissed, Duncan writes, he was told, "It's like The West Wing. You do whatever it takes to win."
Part of the routine
Duncan's revelations were contained in a letter he wrote to the privacy commissioner.
Denham's report, Access Denied, revealed a culture of deleting emails within government, apparently to skirt freedom of information laws.
B.C.'s Information and Privacy Commissioner Elizabeth Denham said there was a culture of regularly triple-deleting emails from government servers by political appointees. (CBC)
According to Denham's October 2015 report, triple deleting means first moving an email to the computer system's "deleted" folder, expunging the email from the folder itself, and then manually overriding a backup that allows the system to recover deleted items for up to 14 days.
She also found that Michele Cadario, deputy chief of staff in the premier's office, routinely contravened freedom of information law by bulk-deleting emails on a daily basis. Denham's investigation cited Cadario as having no email records, despite working in the premier's office for two years. Cadario was never charged in the case.
Others implicated in the report included Evan Southern, former director of issues management for the premier and now the B.C. Liberal Party executive director, and Nick Facey, chief of staff to Citizens Services Minister Amrik Virk.
Stone, the transportation minister, also later publicly admitted he had "triple deleted" his emails.
At the time, Premier Christy Clark defended the actions of her minister and the politically appointed aides, saying that the practice of deleting email had been around a long time.
"I thought that everything was being done properly, because there's really been no change in how things have been done for a decade," Clark said in October.
But what was different about Gretes's case was that he allegedly lied to the privacy commissioner during her investigation into the practice.
NDP implicates premier
NDP Opposition leader John Horgan was quick to react to the charges on Friday,
"Premier Clark sets the tone for every part of her government," said Horgan. "These criminal charges show that her hyper-partisan, do-whatever-it-takes-to-win attitude has been taken to heart by her staff. British Columbians expect and deserve better than this from a premier."
"When whistleblower Tim Duncan revealed that George Gretes had deliberately destroyed government records related to murdered and missing women on the Highway of Tears, the B.C. Liberals worked overtime to paint him as a disgruntled employee and malcontent," said Horgan.
"Even after Duncan was vindicated by Commissioner Denham, Premier Clark could not bring herself to apologize to him. That is perhaps the best example of her attitude towards politics in British Columbia."
After the scandal came to light, Christy Clark hired former privacy commission David Loukidelis to draft new guidelines for the government, which he issued in a report in December.
Former B.C. staffer fined $2,500 on ‘triple delete’ offences
George Gretes pleads guilty to two counts of false statements to Information and Privacy Commissioner Elizabeth Denham
- Thu Jul 14th, 2016 8:00pm
B.C. Information and Privacy Commissioner Elizabeth Denham
A former ministerial assistant to Transportation Minister Todd Stone has been fined $2,500 after pleading guilty to two charges for his role in a complaint about deleted government emails.
George Gretes was charged under the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act for “willfully making false statements to mislead, or attempt to mislead” the Information and Privacy Commissioner.
Commissioner Elizabeth Denham referred the case to police after Gretes testified in her investigation that he didn’t delete a series of emails from a subordinate’s computer during a search in response to a freedom of information request.
Gretes resigned in October 2015 when Denham released her report on the 2014 incident, which found that Gretes had used another employee’s computer to “triple delete” a series of emails.
Stone has maintained that the deleted emails were not the official records dealing with community meetings about improving travel options along Highway 16 in northern B.C., which was the subject of the FOI request. The ministry has since released hundreds of pages of records about the project.
The incident prompted Premier Christy Clark to order all political staff in the government to keep all emails as the procedure for handling electronic communications is updated.
Former privacy commissioner David Loukidelis reviewed the case and recommended that non-partisan public servants should decide what records should be kept and what can be destroyed as duplicate or transitory messages.
Loukidelis warned that with hundreds of millions of emails sent and received each year, trying to evaluate every message would cause the B.C. government to “grind to a halt.”
Deceit and Delete: Cataloguing the BC Government’s Sketchy Email Habits
Mar 23 2016, 7:53am
Or, why BC 'just never got into' this transparency thing.
BC Premier Christy Clark, pictured above, recently rehired a former staffer who is facing criminal charges for deleting emails. Photo via Facebook
BC Premier Christy Clark does not particularly care what you think about her staff's unusual (and potentially criminal) email habits.
That's the signal she sent out last week when her BC Liberal party announced it has rehired former staffer Laura Miller as executive director, even as she faces criminal charges for destruction of government records (read: deleting emails) in Ontario.
"It's the fair and right approach—one that respects our court process, including the fundamental principle that every person is innocent unless proven otherwise," Premier Clark said in a statement. "We all know Laura for her hard work and her integrity. Her return means she can continue to make an outstanding contribution to our party."
Since October last year, British Columbia's email and record collection practices have been under a ton of scrutiny because of an information and privacy commissioner report that found employees in multiple ministries deleted emails that should be captured by freedom-of-information law. Government workers that cooperated with the investigation claimed emails were merely "transitory" and not relevant to FOI inquiries. Daily declutter practices included deleting all sent emails at the end of each day. But commissioner Elizabeth Denham ruled those excessive deleting efforts break the law.
Though the premier has since promised a more "open government" (a promise she's been repeating since 2011) recent revelations and charges have only drawn more attention to politicians and staffers' unconventional relationship with their inboxes.
For example, British Columbia's Finance Minister Mike de Jong recently declared he doesn't "participate" in email. Earlier this month he claimed he "just never got into it."
"Minister de Jong has the longstanding practice of requiring information such as briefing notes, decision notes, memos and other correspondence to be delivered to him through his office on paper," reads an emailed statement to media. (Imagine for a moment the poor soul who had to print off and/or read aloud this sentence to de Jong for approval.) "His choice not to receive information or hold conversations by email is a matter of personal preference as a way to manage and prioritize the volume of information his portfolio already entails."
Premier Clark could have presumably called for better record keeping at this point, but instead stood behind her finance minister's "personal preference." "Some people are more comfortable with modern technology than others," Premier Clark told The Province at the time. "Mike is a farmer. And I know that some farmers use email, I know that some don't. And he is one of them."
Despite attempts to frame de Jong as a blameless luddite, transparency experts have repeatedly said this is part of a pattern that puts government secrecy above the law.
Denham's report found that staffers went to improbable lengths not to create publicly-accessible records. When FOI requests came in, staff tracked names on disposable post-it notes, and asked other staffers for records face-to-face. With so little in writing, BC makes it really tough to find out how and why the government makes decisions.
You can see those habits in action in the case of George Gretes, former ministerial assistant in the transportation ministry, now charged with giving false testimony in an attempt to mislead the information and privacy commissioner. Gretes resigned last fall; his charges have not yet been tested in court.
Gretes's email deleting story begins with an information request that came through transportation ministry in 2014 but resulted in "no responsive records." Former staffer Tim Duncan filed a complaint alleging Gretes deleted over a dozen relevant emails from his computer, and told him: "It's done, now you don't have to worry about it anymore." Gretes first denied deleting the emails, but later changed his story.
Opposition NDP Leader John Horgan has also claimed delete-happy staffers extend to BC's LNG and health ministries. "We asked for emails from the Premier's office and got none, then discovered more than a hundred existed and disappeared," Horgan said in a blog post. "We asked for emails from the LNG ministry and got exactly three. Then we found out 800 existed and, again, disappeared."
Then there's Michele Cadario, Clark's former deputy chief of staff, who admitted to have deleted every single sent email at the end of each workday. Denham found her interpretation of the law resulted in lost records, and broke provincial information and privacy law.
We all know it takes time to kick a habit, even a legally problematic one. But with the premier's latest statements and actions on this file, it's possible she "just never got into" this transparency thing in the first place.
Follow Sarah Berman on Twitter.