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Top BC Liberal staffer named in Ontario gas plant investigation

Another BC Liberal connection to Ontario's gas plant investigation has surfaced.

Former chief of staff to ex-premier Dalton McGuinty, David Livingston, is under investigation by the Ontario Provincial Police for breach of trust. Information to obtain a search warrant claims Livingston gave IT specialist Peter Faist access to two dozen computers for the purpose of deleting information. The police documents name former deputy chief of staff Laura Miller as the "life partner" of Faist. None of the allegations has been proven in court.

Miller was a senior advisor in Ontario's Office of the Premier from late 2007 to early 2013, except for a year and a half in 2010 and 2011 when she was chief operating officer of the Ontario Liberals. In February 2013 she came to B.C. to work for the Liberals on Premier Christy Clark's campaign and became the party's executive director last October. Miller did not respond for comment after email and phone queries on March 27.

Miller testified under oath on Aug. 8, 2013 for the Ontario Standing Committee on Justice Policy's hearings into the cancellation of natural gas fired power plants in Oakville and Mississauga.

That was five days after Don Guy, another former McGuinty chief of staff and a Clark campaign advisor, testified. Clark's communications director Ben Chin, another import from the Ontario Liberals, testified Sept. 26. All three claim no wrongdoing.

In October 2010, the Liberal government cancelled a natural gas-fired power plant in Oakville and cancelled another in Mississauga during the fall 2011 election. Opposition NDP and Conservative critics claim the decisions were politically motivated, aimed at winning two key ridings, and the cancellations could cost Ontario taxpayers' $1.1 billion.

During her testimony, Miller was accused by Conservative finance critic Victor Fedeli of deleting email evidence of the Liberal plan, code-named "Project Vapour."

"By and large, the documents produced do confirm the facts laid out by the former premier, the former minister of energy and my colleagues in their committee appearances," she said at the hearing, reading from a prepared statement. "That is: (1) premier McGuinty made the decision to relocate the gas plants; (2) All of our facts and figures were provided by the Ontario Power Authority, either directly or indirectly by the Ministry of Energy; and (3) The government was prepared to provide the committee the relevant documents."

Fedeli took issue with the deletion of thousands of emails containing Miller's name after Miller told Freedom of Information clerks she had no responsive records. She claimed she was within the rules, deleting emails that were personal, political or transitory.

The hearing climaxed with a heated exchange between Fedeli and Miller:

Victor Fedeli: So what you're saying is you deleted your emails to do with the gas plant? That's why you have none --

Laura Miller: I would delete political, personal and transitory emails.

Fedeli: Okay. These are not political or personal. There are emails that I've brought forward to you that are clearly gas plant-related documents, including your Outlook calendar. Is it systemic through the Liberal associates to delete their email? Is that why we don't have any from you? You deleted them and felt safe to tell the freedom-of-information people, "I don't have any," because you did tell the truth: You didn't have any; you'd deleted them all? All 1,000?

Miller: When I delete emails, I do not have the ability to go back. Perhaps it's a lesson learned that the government can take back, in terms of maybe it shouldn't be political staff who search their emails; maybe it should be an individual in the civil service who has access to inboxes and sent-mail folders and deleted archives -- whatever it is -- to conduct the search. But at the time --

Fedeli: You know the lesson learned? The lesson learned is, you thought you deleted your emails permanently and they weren't deleted permanently. Only when the Ministry of Government Services looked "under the hood" did they find your emails that you thought were safely deleted. Is that true?

Miller: And I'm glad that they found them. I'm absolutely glad that they found them.

Fedeli: I'm glad they found them, too, because you told the freedom-of-information request you had no responsive records.

Miller: Well, let's be frank. If I had those records --

Fedeli: You had none because you deleted your emails.

Miller: If I had those records, I would have provided them to the freedom-of-information request.

Fedeli: I have the records now; don't worry. We have them now. We know you're in this up to your forehead in this gas plants scandal.

Miller: I don't really feel that I am, but thank you for that.

Fedeli: Well, the 1,000 times you're mentioned -- you're one of the pivotal people in this gas plant scandal, in the spin of it all.

Miller: "Pivotal"?

Fedeli: You're organizing meetings about it.

Miller: Can I quote you for my bio?

Fedeli: Yes, you can.

Miller: That's great.

Fedeli: It won't be a very impressive bio when you're talking about gas plant scandals.

Vancouver journalist Bob Mackin is a frequent contributor to The Tyee.

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