British Columbia

'Complete political hypocrisy': B.C. Liberals attack NDP for deleting emails at start of their tenure

The B.C. government is sending mixed signals over the fact a cabinet minister and several members of Premier John Horgan's office seemed to have deleted all emails for weeks on end.

Government says staff in the premier's office didn't break any rules but may have broken 'best practices'

Advanced Education Minister Melanie Mark and several members of Premier John Horgan's staff have entire months where there is no public record of any emails sent. (Getty Images)

The B.C. government is sending mixed signals over the fact a cabinet minister and several members of Premier John Horgan's office seemed to have deleted all emails for weeks on end.

"We hold ourselves to a high standard. Some recent examples have fallen short of that standard," said Jinny Sims, the minister responsible for Freedom of Information requests, during question period on Wednesday. 

Sims made the comments after the B.C. Liberals said a FOI request came back with no record of any emails sent by Advanced Education Minister Melanie Mark for the entire month of February. 

It came after other FOI requests showed no records of any emails sent by five members of Horgan's office — including his director of operations — for the first 100 days after the NDP formed government.

Don Wright, the deputy minister to the premier, said he would be reviewing email records to restore any records that are necessary.

"As staff learned their roles and responsibilities, there may have been some instances of best practices not being followed. Staff have since received training and are taking a more cautious approach to the management of email," wrote Wright in a statement.

Advanced Education Minister Melanie Mark says she is in 'full compliance' with the law but couldn't explain why the B.C. Liberals were unable to access any of the emails she sent in February. (Chad Hipolito/Canadian Press)

'I follow best practices'

But Mark, who did not answer questions put to her by the Liberals in question period, believes she did nothing wrong. 

"I follow best practices in terms of records management. I follow the law," she said.

Mark was unable to explain to reporters why the FOI requests didn't turn up any emails, but said all of her emails had been stored with the office of her deputy minister.

"There's no secret. We're following best practices on record management, on recommendations from the privacy commissioner ... I'm in full compliance."

Finance Minister Carole James argued the situation was not comparable to practices under the B.C. Liberal government, and wouldn't say if she regretted what happened.

"They [the Liberals] were caught out. They deliberately tried to delete information. They deliberately tried to hide information ... what we [the NDP] are talking about are people who have deleted emails, believing they were following best practices," she said. 

"[Don Wright] is making sure the best practices are being followed, and if it wasn't, he'll correct that."

'They screwed up'

But Dermod Travis, the executive director of the watchdog group, Integrity B.C., says the NDP can't claim the moral high ground. 

"It's indefensible what they've done. They can't claim ignorance in terms of such email requests being made. They did it themselves when they were in opposition, so they should know the new opposition will do it to them," he said.

Travis said the government's actions are particularly disappointing because in the last election they promised to improve access to information rules, but thus far have only launched a consultation into the matter.

"They've been doing consultation, when those consultations have already taken place. They know what the best practices are, and they don't seem to be rushing full steam ahead to put those practices in place."

He's disappointed the government hasn't directly apologized for the emails not being available.

"If they came out three months ago and said we did make a mistake, some staff did this, we're going to make sure it never happens again, I think there'd be more public sympathy for them, but on this one, they get zero sympathy," he said. 

"They screwed up and should acknowledge it."