In a Dec. 18 email to BC Liberal Party members, executive director Laura Miller signed-off with this shout-out to Santa Claus:
“For his can-do, entrepreneurial attitude. I betcha he’s a BC Liberal. If he was NDP, kids would never receive their toys. They’d be too busy saying no and wrapping them up in red tape (reindeer licensing, anyone?).”
Miller sent the membership email the very same day that, back in her former home province of Ontario, the Toronto Star gained court access to the information to obtain search warrants in the ongoing investigation of the Ontario Liberal Party’s politically motivated cancellation of gas plants. The scandal could cost taxpayers there $1 billion.
The Ontario Provincial Police anti-rackets squad is investigating Miller’s boss, ex-chief of staff David Livingston, for breach of trust. Miller’s title was Deputy Chief of Staff of Communications and Strategy and Chief of Staff to the Minister of Intergovernmental Affairs before she came west to work on the BC Liberals’ 2013 campaign. Miller eventually took over the party office and was joined in Vancouver by her partner, Peter Faist.
It is important to note that none of the allegations contained in the search warrants has been tested in court and no one has been charged.
The documents, authored by Det. Andre Duval, say that the investigation stems from allegations made by Ontario Conservative Party lawmakers Vic Fedeli and Rob Leone regarding the June 5, 2013 report by Information and Privacy Commissioner Ann Cavoukian.
“According to them, Commissioner Cavoukian concluded that senior advisors in former Premier McGuinty’s office destroyed and/or took the sole copies of official government documents contrary to their obligations under the Archives and Record Keeping Act and the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act. Mr. Fedeli and Mr. Leone allege that this was done as part of an ongoing coverup of the scandal by the provincial government into the cancellation of the Oakville and Mississauga gas plants.”
The Nov. 24, 2014 search warrant gave access the entire email box of MIller, from May 1, 2012 to Feb. 11, 2013. Faist was interviewed by detectives on Oct. 9, 2014:
“Mr. Peter Faist was interviewed by the investigators and stated that he was asked by his spouse, Ms. Laura Miller, to wipe off personal data on approximately 20 desktop computers in the Premier’s Office. He was provided access to the desktop computers through Wendy Wai’s user account and password. Mr. Faist also confirmed that he installed and used the WhiteCanyon software to accomplish his task. Mr. Faist was under the impression that Cabinet Office was aware of his presence and the work requested of him. He was paid an amount of $10,000 by the Liberal caucus for his work.”
“On the 24th of January 2013 at approximately 13:55h Ms. Miller sent an email to Dave Gene and David Livingston. The subject of the email was ‘Pete’s project.’ She advised them that her spouse Peter Faist could start with their computer and that it could take 3 to 4 hours per desktop. Mr. Livingston replied: ‘Good by me. Thanks!'”
Faist was president of a company called NetCon1 located at 43 Hanna Ave., Suite 523, Toronto, Ont. From June 2010 to March 2014, NetCon1 had received from the Ontario Liberal Party the sum of $57,036.08 and a sum of $167,072.28 from the Liberal Caucus Service Bureau.
“According to Mr. (Simon) Tunstall, the company of Mr. Faist, NetCon1, was hired as a sole sourced provider by Laura Miller when she was Executive Director of the Ontario Liberal Party. Mr. Tunstall explained that it is common to sole source work to people that they know, that would include friends and family members. He did not see a conflict of interest that Ms. Miller hired her life partner to conduct a computer server maintenance for the Ontario Liberal Party. Mr. Tunstall also confirmed that there was no written contract between Netcon1 and the Ontario Liberal Party.”
Tunstall said the contract with Faist and NetCon1 was cancelled March 30, 2014 for “political purpose.” (Faist’s connection to the gas plant scandal was revealed in late March.) Faist had negotiated his work with Dave Gene, chief of staff of operations.
“I did not bid on anything but I don’t know what they did specifically… it was a benign uh activity so it wasn’t a big deal that I would recall specific conversations.”
He was paid an amount of $10,000 prior to accomplishing his work at the Premier’s Office.
“I think I was paid prior prior to… I think I billed them previous to doing the work in this instance… I believe it was somewhere around ten thousand.”
Faist stated that he was paid by the Ontario Liberal Caucus. “I didn’t give an invoice to the Premier’s Office I believe I gave one to Liberal Caucus.”
Cabinet secretary Peter Wallace stated David Livingston’s decision to bring in Peter Faist was a poor decision:
“A marked departure from the norm…. the idea that somebody would step outside of the Government of Ontario and would bring in somebody outside to alter the records of the Government of Ontario I don’t need to tell them that that’s right or wrong you know that is so clearly outside of normal business… Like I’m not going to write you a memo saying don’t do that, because you already know don’t do that.”
When detectives interviewed him, Faist voluntarily surrendered emails which showed exchanges with Laura Miller, Dave Gene and Wendy Wai. “The emails surrendered by Mr. Faist provided crucial information to the investigators.” Including, how Faist advised Miller and Gene to back up their files on a USB external hard drive.
So, what about Miller?
“On the 3rd of April 2014, Supt. Beesley sent a letter to the legal counsel of Ms. Laura Miller, Mr. Brian Shiller of Ruby Shiller LLP. The letter invited Ms. Miller to attend an interview with OPP investigators. As of the 21st of Nov. 2014, Ms. Miller did not reply to the letter.”
“On the 24th of Oct. 2014, I received a letter from the Office of the Independent Police Review Director. The letter concerned a public complaint made by Ms. Laura Miller against myself and Det. Sgt. Brian Mason. The allegations stated that I falsely suggested, through a sworn statement and sworn testimony, that Ms. Miller refused to assist the OPP. The allegations are under investigation, unproven and will be disputed.”
During a trip to Ottawa in late March, Premier Christy Clark was quoted as saying that Miller “is a person of absolutely sterling character, and she works incredibly hard for our party and for our province. She’s a person of the utmost integrity, and we’re really, really lucky to have her in B.C.”
When reporters asked Clark if Miller should co-operate with police, Clark said: “Well, I think she needs to do — she needs to make her own decisions about that. My concern is to know that everybody who’s working for me is — are people of integrity. She is a person of integrity, and of course you know she’s not the target of this investigation.”
How to avoid FOI
And then there’s the “how-to” guide that Miller received from Livingston about deleting emails so that they couldn’t be discovered in a Freedom of Information search.
On Aug. 9, 2012, Livingston sent an email to Miller and others, and stated that after a discussion with Dave Nicholl, chief information officer, “he learned that if emails are double deleted, they cannot be retrieved. He also learned that back-up tapes in the Premier’s Office have never been used to satisfy a Freedom of Information request.”
That email finished with these words, which are an unofficial motto of the Liberals in Ontario and B.C.: “…nothing is more confidential than talking rather than writing.”
Wrote Det. Duval:
“I bring your attention to the following comments made by Mr. Livingston: “If emails are double deleted (meaning deleted from and Inbox and Delete file), then the are gone and cannot be retrieved… However, backups are not part of the system that is accessed for FOI purposes so they have never been used to satisfy an FOI request. As such, I don’t think we need to worry about this back up process.
I believe those words show the concerns of Mr. David Livingston related to the retention of emails following a Freedom of Information application. It also provides guidelines to the staff of the Premier’s Office on how to get rid of emails permanently. Furthermore, there was no direction in this email from David Livingston on the necessity to preserve government records or follow the Premier’s Office Records Retention Schedule.
Cavoukian’s British Columbia counterpart, Elizabeth Denham, has noted in several reports a similar culture exists in the BC Liberal government: Deleted emails, “no records” responses to FOI requests, a reliance on verbal instead of written communication. Denham’s most recent report was in September and it pointed the finger right at Clark’s office.