A senior provincial cabinet minister says every MLA uses private email for government business, a statement seemingly at odds with the government's position one week ago.
"All the members have used their private email for business related to government to respond to constituents and, you know, myself included, as has every other member," Crown Investments Corporation Minister Joe Hargrave told reporters in Regina Thursday, following the end of the legislative session.
On May 11, a senior government official was asked if private email was used for government business by any cabinet ministers or senior staff in the premier's office. The official said as far as she knew, no one did. She said they all have official government accounts and that's what they use.
Saskatoon man Marcus Grundahl said he was "surprised and alarmed" when Hargrave replied via private email to his concerns over the Saskatchewan Transportation Company.
Hargrave has since admitted to the mistake and says it won't happen again.
Grundahl, though, said that isn't the end of things. He's taken the matter to Saskatchewan's information and privacy commissioner for review.
Grundahl said it's essential for government officials, especially cabinet ministers, to communicate through official channels. He said he hopes to discover whether Hargrave's emails to him represent an isolated incident or a more widespread practice — a question Hargrave appears to have answered.
CBC News has asked both the government and the official Opposition whether Hargrave's statement is accurate. A statement from the Opposition said they are not in government, and their concern is with government members discussing NAFTA or other matters using private email. A government statement said they've "asked all MLAs and ministers to work with their staff (in their constituency offices and in their ministerial offices) to make sure that the proper accounts are used for the right purpose."
Hargrave also told reporters on Thursday that all members of all parties will likely be ensuring the practice has stopped.
"Hopefully, that never happens again," Hargrave said. "Hopefully, that was sort of a one-and-done … I will be transferring it to my government email and replying through there," he said.
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The development comes following criticism last week of Premier Brad Wall's use of private email for government work.
"In most cases, those emails are forwarded to the right account to be actioned. That did not happen in this case," Hargrave said in a written statement Wednesday.
Replied to STC questions via private email
The CBC obtained a chain of eight emails between Hargrave, his chief of staff and Saskatchewan Transportation Company employee Marcus Grundahl.
Grundahl had concerns about the state of the bus company and potential salary cuts. He searched for Hargrave's contact information online. He said he emailed the first address he could find, which was Hargrave's Saskatchewan Party address.
The exchange, which involved emails from March 5 to 10, pre-dated the revelations of Wall's private email use, as well as the March 22 provincial budget signaling the closure of STC. In the ensuing string of emails, Hargrave's chief of staff used a government account, but Hargrave replied to Grundahl from a personal address.
"This is a concern," Grundahl said.
After Grundahl saw Hargrave was using a private address, he emailed on March 10 to say he was "concerned" that an official government email was not being used. He asked for an explanation.
Grundahl said neither Hargrave nor his chief of staff has emailed back. He said he received only a vague voice mail from the chief of staff which didn't answer his questions.
"I simply asked the question, 'Why?' I just wanted a clear response," said Grundahl, an employee of the STC's Saskatoon location.
"If it's a mistake, it's a mistake. If it's not, there's potentially a greater problem."
Grundahl, who noted in the emails he's a former staffer for then-premier Roy Romanow, said government accounts are necessary to preserve the public record. There's also no guarantee of security using private emails for government business, he said.
Grundahl has contacted the office of Saskatchewan's privacy and information commissioner. He said the office has started a file on the case.