Key targets out of reach as province's 3-year record-keeping push wraps up

·3 min read
A special legislative standing committee was set up in 2020 to investigate missing P.E.I. government emails as well as review the province’s record-keeping policies.
A special legislative standing committee was set up in 2020 to investigate missing P.E.I. government emails as well as review the province’s record-keeping policies.

(Wayne Thibodeau/CBC - image credit)

A three-year plan to increase the P.E.I. government's compliance with its own records management law has run its course, with an assessment from provincial bureaucrats citing "great progress" but also highlighting key goals the province failed to achieve.

The strategy was put into place in 2017, following a highly critical report from the province's auditor general that found some government emails had been improperly deleted, in violation of the Archives and Records Act.

In their latest report, titled "Recorded Information Management Assessment 2019-2020," the province's records management co-ordinators calculated an average compliance rate of 74 per cent for 17 provincial departments and agencies in terms of their adherence to the Archives and Records Act.

Only one of those 17 public bodies — the Department of Economic Growth, Tourism and Culture — scored below the 60-per-cent threshold considered a "pass" in the assessment.

But the report found all but two of the agencies failed to meet a target to have 95 per cent of staff trained in basic records management practices such as how to classify government records and how to properly destroy them when appropriate.

Overall, where the province had aimed to have all employees complete a mandatory training course by the end of March 2020, only 28 per cent had done so.

Completion of the course "must become a priority for public bodies so that staff have the knowledge needed to meet their [records management] responsibilities," the bureaucrats wrote in their report.

Kerry Campbell/CBC
Kerry Campbell/CBC

The report also found that across the roughly 349 individual sections and components of the provincial government, nearly two-thirds were either operating without a records retention schedule or needed a new one.

Records retention schedules are a critical component of records management, telling government employees how long records like emails must be kept and what has to happen with them at the end of their life cycle.

Space for documents running out

The report cites the need for digital storage space as increasing at 60 per cent per year, while a secondary facility for storing physical records "will reach capacity sooner than expected," as 11,384 boxes of records have been sent there since it opened in October of 2017.

Meanwhile, 8 of the 17 public bodies that were assessed in the report said they had physical records — including maps, photographs, video and audio recordings — that were considered "at risk" from factors such as "potential water damage, unauthorized access, and mold growth."

Among the recommendations: that government ensure staff have organized all email and other electronic records, according to approved retention schedules, as part of the province's five-year plan to switch from its current email platform, Novell GroupWise, to Microsoft Exchange and Microsoft 365.

Former AG criticized management of records

In her 2016 report on e-gaming, the P.E.I. government's failed attempt to become a regulator for online gambling, former auditor general Jane MacAdam devoted an entire chapter to scrutinizing and criticizing the province's records management practices.

MacAdam said "email accounts of senior government officials, who were key participants in the e-gaming initiative," had been deleted after those people left government, in contravention of the Archives and Records Act.

In 2020, a special committee of the legislature was struck after the province's privacy commissioner reported another batch of missing government emails. She said the government had "deliberately withheld" information about them from people who sought access to them through freedom of information requests.

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