Ontario premier threatened legal action over Opposition leader's recent comments
TORONTO—Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne has raised the spectre of legal action against Tory Leader Tim Hudak, demanding he withdraw accusations she was involved in the alleged deletion of government emails in the gas plants scandal.
Wynne released an open letter March 30, with the Opposition leader expected to pounce on the issue during Question Period in the legislature.
She called Hudak’s allegations “false, misleading and defamatory.”
Court documents released last week said police, who have an ongoing breach-of-trust investigation into the decision to cancel two gas plants, believe a senior aide to former premier Dalton McGuinty gave an outside tech expert access to computers in the premier’s office and wiped them clean.
Hudak quickly linked Wynne to the revelations, telling a news conference: “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,” adding that she “possibly ordered the destruction of documents.”
In the letter, Wynne demanded Hudak and his caucus not repeat the claim and scrub it from their website.
“I have sought and obtained legal advice regarding your comments, and if steps are not taken immediately, I will have no choice but to take all necessary and appropriate steps to ensure your false statements are corrected,” Wynne wrote.
A Wynne spokesperson refused to spell out what those steps might be, but the Progressive Conservatives shrugged off the threat.
Hudak was not made available for comment over the weekend, but Tory energy critic Lisa MacLeod told reporters in a teleconference that her party will not be “muzzled” by the premier.
“This was a media stunt by Kathleen Wynne and she is simply trying to send a chill down the backs of each and every opposition member who has the so-called audacity to question her,” she said.
When asked if the party has sought legal counsel, MacLeod said that “we haven’t seen a legal letter to respond legally with.”
According to the allegations in the documents, which haven’t been tested in court, McGuinty chief of staff David Livingston sought high-level access to the computers to “wipe clean the hard drives” after McGuinty resigned amid controversy over the cancellation of two gas plants ahead of the 2011 election.
The province’s auditor general estimates the cost of the decision could climb to $1.1-billion.
In a snap news conference last week shortly after Hudak’s remarks, a fiery Wynne said his accusations that she participated in a coverup are “irresponsible.”
Earlier she said that Livingston never worked in her office or her government, adding she was co-operating with the ongoing police probe.
McGuinty also denied last week that he knew anything about an effort to delete emails or documents.
One political watcher said the back and forth and Wynne’s insistence that it didn’t happen under her watch may be too “inside baseball” for voters to care about.
Attention will likely shift to pocketbook matters as the government gets closer to handing down its budget this spring, said Henry Jacek, who teaches political science at McMaster University.
“A lot of people, I think, have basically thought, well this money was wasted, it’s unfortunate but that water’s gone over the dam. We’re not going to get that money back again so it’s time to move on,” he said.
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 alleged in court documents that Peter Faist, who wasn’t a government employee, was the person who actually accessed the 24 computers using Wai’s administrative privileges, including former deputy chief of staff Laura Miller’s, Livingston’s and other staffers.
A lawyer for Livingston has said his client did not break the law.
Police say Wai’s special administrator’s rights were valid from Feb. 4 to March 20 last year—a timeline the Tories say underpin their claims, as Wynne was sworn in on Feb. 11.
But Wynne said members of McGuinty’s staff had no access to the premier’s office once she took over.
Faist, who police believe is Miller’s partner, 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.