Wynne: I didn't try to cover up emails
TORONTO - Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne struggled to distance herself Thursday from her predecessor Dalton McGuinty, amid explosive police allegations that his chief of staff may have committed a breach of trust in the ongoing gas plants scandal.
Provincial police allege in unsealed court documents that they believe David Livingston gave an outside tech expert — the boyfriend of a senior staffer — access to 24 computers in the premier's office.
According to the documents, Livingston sought high-level access to the computers to "wipe clean the hard drives" after McGuinty resigned amid controversy over the costly cancellation of two gas plants.
It's alleged that during the transition period to Wynne's administration, Livingston arranged for his executive assistant Wendy Wai to have special access to desktops in the premier's office, even though she had little knowledge of computers.
Police believe Peter Faist, who wasn't a government employee, was the person who actually accessed the 24 computers using Wai's administrative privileges, including Miller's, Livingston's and other staffers.
Faist, who police believe is the partner of former deputy chief of staff Laura Miller, was never officially hired by the government and did not undergo the required security screening, the documents say.
According to two staffers in the premier's office, Faist accessed their computers a few days before Wynne was sworn in, saying he was getting them ready for the next government, police say.
The staffers said they couldn't log into their computers after Faist left and called IT staff, who said it was clear that system files had been deleted, police allege.
In February, Ontario Provincial Police seized hard drives from government computers at ReCall, a data storage facility in Mississauga, Ont.
It's part of their investigation into the unlawful deletion of government emails concerning unpopular gas plants in Oakville and Mississauga that were cancelled by the Liberals ahead of the 2011 election.
None of the allegations have been proven in court.
Livingston's lawyer, Brian Gover, said his client "did nothing wrong and certainly did not break the law as alleged."
"He was consistently open about his actions in the Premier's Office and he always believed that those actions were proper and in accordance with normal practices," Gover wrote in an email.
"We are confident that a full review will show that the allegations are baseless."
In the court documents, Gover said Livingston was trying to delete "purely personal" records before the change in government and no public records were affected.
But if the latest allegations are true, they are "very disturbing," a grim-faced Wynne said Thursday.
"This is not the way a government should operate, this is not the way a premier's office should conduct itself and it is not the way my office operates," she said.
"I want to be clear: this individual does not work in my office, nor in my government, nor has he ever worked in my government."
Police say Wai's special administrator's rights were valid from Feb. 4 to March 20 last year. Wynne was sworn in on Feb. 11.
But she said members of McGuinty's staff had no access to the premier's office once she took over.
"After that date, no one came into my office to take any action to do with destroying information, nor did I direct anyone to do that, nor did I have any knowledge of anyone doing that," Wynne said.
The Progressive Conservatives said it's clear that the Liberals don't have the moral authority to govern.
"We now know that the coverup and criminal destruction of documents and emails took place in Kathleen Wynne's office under her watch as premier," said Opposition Leader Tim Hudak, adding that she "possibly ordered the destruction of documents."
Hudak's accusations that she participated in a crime and a coverup are "irresponsible ... disgraceful and they're an insult to his office," Wynne fired back.
But the allegations are still a big blow to the rookie premier, who may be facing an election if her minority government can't pass its spring budget.
NDP Leader Andrea Horwath said she finds it "unbelievable" that Wynne didn't know about what was going on in the premier's office. But she wouldn't rule out propping up the Liberals by supporting their budget, as her party has done for the past two years.
Wynne expressed optimism that her government could still get work done, despite the latest allegations.
"I came into this office knowing that there were issues that I would have to deal with," she said.
"I've been dealing with those issues and at the same time, I have been working to make decisions and put policies in place that are in the best interests of the people of this province."
But when voters go to the polls, they may find it hard to distinguish Wynne's government from her predecessor's. And the Liberals are betting that their record over the last decade will encourage voters to stick with the status quo.
In the meantime, the premier said she'll keep refuting "unfounded" personal attacks by the Opposition and ensure that people understand who the police allegations are actually targeting.
The police launched their investigation last June after the Tories complained that gas plant emails were intentionally deleted by McGuinty's senior staff.
Privacy Commissioner Ann Cavoukian had ruled that top Liberals in McGuinty's office broke the law when they deleted the emails.
The opposition parties said the emails were wiped out to cover up the true cost of killing the gas plants, which the auditor general estimates could climb to $1.1 billion — far more than the $230 million the government claimed.
McGuinty has said that he never condoned or directed the deletion of emails or documents which should have been preserved under law.
It was the government's initial refusal to release gas plant documents that led to a rare and often nasty contempt of parliament debate, which prompted McGuinty to prorogue the legislature in the fall of 2012 and resign as premier.
The Liberals eventually turned over hundreds of thousands of documents and emails related to the gas plants in several batches, insisting after each one that all the relevant correspondence had been released.