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EDITORIAL: A sorry legacy

Privacy commissioner says Liberal party breached rules when it leaked emails, files on three whistleblowers
From left, Cora Plourd, Susan Holmes and Svetlana Tenetko, gathered at the Delta Prince Edward in Charlottetown for a news conference outlining their allegations of fraud and bribery in the Provincial Nominee Program in 2011. (Guardian file photo)

Privacy commissioner says Liberal party breached rules when it leaked emails, files on three whistleblowers

It’s a damning report about violations of privacy laws, yet no one is being held accountable, the response from the provincial government is tepid and we have only vague assurances something similar won’t happen again.

P.E.I.’s privacy commissioner Karen Rose says a leak of information by the Liberal party during the 2011 provincial election, involving three whistleblowers in the Provincial Nominee Program, was a clear violation of their privacy.

The women had talked about suitcases full of money exchanging hands and made allegations about fraud and bribery. In those earlier PNP days, it seemed people were willing to play fast and loose with the rules.

As their reward, the three women were dragged through the mud. Their private emails and personnel files were leaked by someone in government to the Liberal party, which then happily released the information to the media, accompanied by a press release seeking to further discredit the women.

It was Michael Mayne, the deputy minister of economic development in 2011, who gathered the information on the three whistleblowers. The day their allegations made national headlines, Mayne provided the file to the premier’s deputy minister, the clerk of executive council and the deputy minister of justice of the day; and also shared them with other government employees.

Rose didn’t need breadcrumbs to follow the trail - she blamed government. And in a strange twist of events, the commissioner of the day asked Mayne to conduct an investigation. He found no evidence of a privacy breach, which shouldn’t come as a surprise. The investigation involved an obvious conflict of interest but Rose was content to merely observe that government failed to properly investigate.

It was unfortunate that it took six years to complete the report. It’s true the investigation began under a former privacy commissioner but six years is much too long to wrap up one investigation.

Rose declined to name likely suspects, limiting her report to recommending better education and training on proper information handling practices in the future.

The MacLauchlan government accepted her recommendations but at the same time tried to wash its hands of the issue. The premier noted this incident happened in 2011 and that key players involved are not a part of the current administration. What about the large number of Liberal MLAs who were in power then and are still on government benches today? The government cannot say its hands are clean.

The premier had to be prompted to issue an apology. It was lukewarm at best but at least he made one. And the province has taken some progressive steps in recent months, such as naming an ethics and integrity commissioner, bringing whistleblower legislation before the legislative assembly and making investments in information retention.

The report is small comfort for the three women. They lost their jobs and saw their reputations tarnished. They deserved an apology years ago.

The previous Liberal government leaked the information and the party is guilty of a smear campaign. Each must accept the blame. It’s a sorry legacy.

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