'Hindsight is always 2020': Deputy minister answers to committee on missing records

·2 min read

P.E.I.'s deputy minister of economic growth, tourism and culture says she should have disclosed records were missing in response to a pair of freedom of information requests in May 2019.

Erin McGrath-Gaudet appeared before the province's special committee on government records retention Friday afternoon. The committee drilled down on why McGrath-Gaudet and her department did not disclose to the two applicants who requested records that there were missing emails.

The emails belonged to Brad Mix, a senior civil servant with the Crown corporation responsible for economic development in the province. They were just the latest batch found to be missing in the period from 2010 to 2012, in a window of time the province was pursuing a controversial — and ultimately failed — bid to become a regulator for online gambling, otherwise known as P.E.I.'s egaming affair.

The committee has already heard from Mix. He told the MLAs he did not delete his emails, that he did not know what happened to them and wished he still had them.

Privacy commissioner says information 'deliberately withheld'

In a ruling issued in June, former Privacy Commissioner Karen Rose said the province "deliberately withheld" information about the missing emails in response to those freedom of information requests.

In failing to disclose that some of the records the two applicants were seeking were missing from government archives, Rose said the Department of Economic Growth had failed in its duty to assist the applicants and was thus in violation of the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act.

One of the freedom of information requests was filed by Paul Maines, head of the company suing the province for millions in an ongoing legal battle over failed efforts to set up a financial services centre in P.E.I.

When asked by the committee why her department didn't disclose to the applicants that records were missing, McGrath-Gaudet said "hindsight is always 20-20."

"Absolutely if I were to go back and do this again, I mean, now obviously having the ruling of the privacy commissioner, that would be something that we would now disclose to an applicant."

'I don't have an excuse'

McGrath-Gaudet said at the time she had just been appointed deputy minister, and was looking at what the usual standard responses were to applicants.

She said response forms are drafted by the province's Access and Privacy Services Office and "it hadn't occurred to me in that particular time that we should amend the form letter to disclose that."

She said responses to the information requests were already late, so "in the interest of meeting the timelines," McGrath-Gaudet signed off on the department's responses.

"I don't have an excuse or an explanation as to why I failed in the first place on this," McGrath-Gaudet told the committee.

More from CBC P.E.I.