TORONTO - Staff from Premier Dalton McGuinty's office acted in
violation of access to information rules and intentionally delayed the
release of thousands of pages of expense claims filed by Ontario
Lottery and Gaming Corp. executives, the opposition parties charged
Wednesday.

 

“This appears to be political interference of the
highest order, with direct connection right back to the premier's
office,” NDP Leader Andrea Horwath said in the legislature.

 

“Clearly,
(McGuinty) and his office were desperately, desperately trying to
manage their way out of yet another expense scandal.”

 

The
allegations of interference by the premier's office first came from
Kelly McDougald, the fired head of Ontario Lottery and Gaming, in a
notice of claim for her $8.4 million wrongful dismissal suit against
the government and Finance Minister Dwight Duncan.

 

“The Minister
(Duncan) advised . . . that the government could not delay the release
of the records any further,” McDougald alleged in the 18-page legal
document.

The notice of claim contains allegations yet to be proven in court. The Ontario government has said it will dispute the claim.

The
government and political staff are not supposed to interfere in
requests filed under the province's access to information law, said
Progressive Conservative Leader Tim Hudak.

“It certainly paints
a very disturbing picture about the role of the finance minister and
the deputy chief of staff to the premier in intervening in the FOI
process,” said Hudak.

McGuinty repeatedly refused Wednesday to
deny his office interfered in the access-to-information requests, and
said only that the Liberals had broadened the number of agencies the
legislation applies to.

The premier joked when reporters expressed frustration that he would not give a direct answer.

“That's what I do,” said McGuinty about evading the questions.

“I think what I keep saying is we keep improving things and doing a better job.”

Horwath
said the premier's credibility has been harmed by the way the
government handled the release of the OLG expense claims and its
reaction to the allegations made in McDougald's notice of claim, which
was made public Tuesday.

“It's quite clear from the documents
from Ms. McDougald . . . that the premiers' office and the minister's
office made every effort possible to hold back the information,” she
said.

“It's really obvious that although the premier talks about
transparency and accountability, what comes out of his actions is
exactly the opposite.”

Horwath said there were a lot of
questions around the extent to which the government interfered in not
only the timing of the release, but with the documents that were
released, and said she's still not sure everything from OLG has been
made public.

McDougald's notice of claim also accused Duncan of
firing her because she refused his order to fire the lottery
corporation's chief financial officer - and any other executive of her
choosing - to serve as scapegoats for the “unacceptable” expense claims
at OLG.

“It looks like a government that was anxious to find
political pawns to take the fall, a couple of bureaucrats so the
minister wouldn't get bumped,” said Hudak.

McGuinty said his
government would introduce legislation to keep a closer eye on expenses
filed by about 300 top executives at 22 of Ontario's 615 arms-length
agencies, boards and commissions by having them approved by the
province's integrity commissioner.

“Management is now reviewing
expenses, but what we want to do is ensure that the managers, or the
reviewers, are now going to have their expenses reviewed,” said
McGuinty.

The government wants to make sure it isn't stung by
even more expense abuses after the OLG scandal and similar problems at
eHealth Ontario, which also came under fire for awarding $16 million in
untendered contracts to consultants.

EHealth's CEO, Sarah
Kramer, was paid $317,000 in severance when she left her post at the
height of the scandal, but the government refused to pay one-year's
salary to McDougald to leave her $400,000 a year job at OLG, which
resulted in the multi-million-dollar lawsuit.