Emails deleted or disabled?

Government provided some information Thursday on the deleted e-gaming emails, but that didn't erase lingering questions over why the auditor general couldn't obtain the information she was after.

Government, Opposition differ on language as questions remain on why emails weren't provided to AG

PC MLA Steven Myers (left) questions Liberal MLA Doug Currie in the legislature Thursday about the deleted emails raised in the auditor general's report on the province's failed e-gaming initiative. (CBC)

Since the opening day of the fall sitting of the P.E.I. Legislature the Official Opposition has been asking about deleted emails referred to in the auditor general's e-gaming report.

After deferring on the issue on numerous occasions, government provided some information Thursday, but that didn't erase lingering questions over why the auditor general couldn't obtain the information she was after.

Doug Currie, the minister responsible for archives and records, explained that as a matter of common practice government's IT division "disables" the email accounts of employees who leave the civil service. He said this has occurred 2,481 times since tracking began in 2007.

The auditor general said deleted. We're not talking about disabled email accounts, we're talking about deleted.– Steven Myers

"Even though the accounts are disabled ... the records are backed up and stored for an additional year," he explained. "Following that time the records are overwritten."

But Opposition MLA Steven Myers made it clear he wasn't asking about "disabled" email accounts.

"I want to clarify on this little game that's being played today," he said. "The auditor general said 'deleted.' We're not talking about disabled email accounts, we're talking about deleted."

E-gaming investigation

The province's failed bid to become a regulator of online gambling was the subject of a special investigation by Auditor General Jane MacAdam. She concluded government's pursuit of the plan "demonstrated a lack of due regard for transparency and accountability."

In her report, MacAdam wrote: "We noted instances where the email accounts of senior government officials, who were key participants in the e-gaming initiative … were removed after leaving government."

Further on, she explains the email accounts in question were "closed, deleted and could not be recovered. We were not provided with any emails or other government records for these individuals."

IT protocols

While IT protocols might lead to emails being overwritten a year after someone leaves government service, the province's Archives and Records Act states records may only be destroyed in accordance with a schedule which lays out for how long they're supposed to be retained.

In her report, MacAdam said government was not complying with those retention schedules.

According to a government spokeperson, emails that need to be retained are supposed to be printed off.

When asked if the emails the auditor general was seeking were from disabled accounts that were overwritten after 12 months, Currie said "I'm not going to speak specifically to the work of the auditor general."

Email management policy

On Thursday the Opposition tabled a copy of government's current email management policy.

It states: "In requiring that records not be destroyed without proper authority, the legislation recognizes that those who work and make decisions in the public interest must be accountable for their actions and decisions. The saving of records is an essential component of accountability."

Currie provided some details on a new records management program to be implemented in 2017. That will include opening a second secure records centre for paper documents, and piloting a new electronic records management program. All government employees are to be provided with ongoing records management training.

Won't say whose email deleted

On the one question the Opposition has asked over and over again — Whose email accounts were deleted? — both Currie and Premier Wade MacLauchlan finally made it clear they will not provide that answer, but they will leave that for the auditor general to disclose.

"This is the normal work of government," MacLauchlan told the House, "and it's not my view of my role as premier to stand in the House and reveal the names of public servants ... who've done the proper thing."