COLUMN: The case of the lack of emails

COLUMN: The case of the lack of emails

MLA Wes Taylor speaks to 800,000 emails to government deleted

Wes Taylor MLA

Battle River-Wainwright

I’m frequently asked by constituents why the government fails to reply to the emails or letters they send to various ministries and departments.

In respect of questions posed regarding both Bill 6, The Enhanced Protection for Farm and Ranch Workers Act, and Bill 20, The Climate Leadership Implementation Act (carbon tax) the silence of the response was particularly deafening. Perhaps, considering the group think climate alarmist noises emanating from NDP ranks I could have suggested, facetiously, that the Bermuda Triangle had moved north!

I suspected that constituents in Battle River-Wainwright are not singled out to be ignored and, indeed, my MLA colleagues tell me that their constituents air similar complaints. This therefore must amount to a significant number of ignored emails and letters.

I often wondered what happens to these items of correspondence. Both the Wildrose, and now the UCP, caucuses have asked these very questions. How could a government whose “top priorities are… restoring honest and open government” Rachel Notley, Election Platform 2015 countenance willfully ignoring Albertans and/or refuse to answer legitimate enquiries?

Well, as regards the emails, the mystery is now solved; and the answer is potentially worse than I imagined.

Then Wildrose Party originally requested information about government email records in 2016. Shortly after it requested further information and discovered that some 800,000 emails across government departments had been deleted. This is not some IT error or a rogue and disillusioned employee wreaking havoc having been given a pink slip. Rather this appears to be a deliberate policy sanctioned from on high.

Of particular interest were the email records of both Premier Notley’s ex-Chief of Staff, Brian Topp and her Deputy Chief of Staff, Anne McGrath. Topp had only 78 emails in his inbox and just one in his sent folder. McGrath had a mere 18 emails in her inbox and, again, just one sent message. Both Topp’s and McGrath’s deleted items folder were completely empty.

Now, this low level of email traffic suggests that either these individuals are employed in jobs which at best can only be described as sinecures or there has been an inordinate, bordering on OCD, levels of email “housekeeping” going on.

In addition to these notable examples is the worrying instruction issued by two ministries, education and transportation, directing staff to get rid of emails in their inboxes.

Further, the transportation department set a target for staff to reduce inbox emails by 25 per cent, the ones who deleted the most being entered into a draw for a $50 iTunes gift cards. That’s your tax dollars folks rewarding, well, rewarding I‘m not quite sure what.

The Premier’s communication director, Cheryl Oates, has stated that, “we’re confident that no official records have been intentionally deleted.”

That remains to be seen. I guess the questions posed by ordinary Albertans simply don’t make the cut as an, “official record,” – and are considered appropriate for the electronic trash can. Now, if they make the trash can out of glass, and without a lid, at least the Premier can stand by her statement of a government that is “open and transparent.”

This is a serious matter, former political staff in Ontario were charged with deleting emails – are the NDP in Alberta copying some of those same tactics? As a consequence the UCP Caucus has asked the Privacy Commissioner to investigate this matter. l hope they will look into this at the earliest opportunity.