Alberta’s info commissioner looks into Morton’s email addresses

EDMONTON — Tory leadership candidate Ted Morton is being investigated by Alberta’s Information and Privacy Commissioner over allegations he improperly shredded government documents and used a separate email account to thwart freedom of information searches.

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EDMONTON — Tory leadership candidate Ted Morton is being investigated by Alberta’s Information and Privacy Commissioner over allegations he improperly shredded government documents and used a separate email account to thwart freedom of information searches.

A spokesman for Privacy Commissioner Frank Work announced Work had decided to investigate the allegations contained in a CBC report.

“What the commissioner is concerned about here is are these secondary email accounts being set up and used in a method so that you can avoid a FOIP (Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy) request?” said Wayne Wood. “That’s kind of what got his curiosity up and that’s what he wants some answers to.”

The investigation will now hang over Morton, the former finance minister, when party members vote Sept. 17 to pick a new party leader to replace outgoing Premier Ed Stelmach.

If none of the six candidates get a simple majority of votes, the top three vote-getters move on to a run-off ballot on Oct. 1.

Wood said they will begin investigating immediately, but couldn’t say when it will wrap up.

“It will be a little bit difficult to get it done before the first ballot of the leadership race because that’s just a week away,” said Wood, adding it “will be a matter of weeks rather than months.”

He said if Work finds any malfeasance or evidence of deliberate obstruction, it could be a formal obstruction charge and the file is passed on to the Justice Department.

The CBC story, which aired early Thursday, quoted a former Morton staffer who has since been fired and is now fighting the government in a labour board hearing. The staffer said he was told second-hand that Morton used a secondary email account titled “Frederick Lee” to hide his identity while Morton was minister of Sustainable Resource Development.

Morton told radio station CHED he’s done nothing wrong.

“It’s a common practice of almost all federal and provincial cabinet ministers to have a public email where the public can send email, where we get hundreds a day, and a personal email inside for communications with staff, both office and senior civil service,” said Morton.

Sam Armstrong, a spokesman for Morton’s campaign, said Morton never tried to hide behind the email.

He said staff were told Frederick Lee was, in fact, Morton and that Morton’s first two names are in fact Frederick Lee.

“That account was always viewed as being a FOIP-able account, and in fact it was FOIPed,” he said.

In Calgary, Stelmach said he, too, has a second email address for personal office use.

“But, it’s all subject to full rules of transparency,” said Stelmach.

“And under FOIP, I would hope that whatever emails have been transmitted fall within the same category, and if it’s not, then the next premier can ask the (ethics) commissioner to review the policy to make sure that all emails are fully transparent with the Alberta public.”

The CBC report also noted that it had been told Morton’s office shredded all documents when he resigned from cabinet to run to replace Stelmach.

Armstrong said old correspondence from Morton’s constituency and other routine documents was disposed of, but that’s it.

“You can’t be hauling boxes and boxes and boxes (when you move departments),” said Armstrong.

Wood said there are different classifications for what is considered routine and can be shredded and what is deemed important and must be saved.

He said Work wants to make sure the right documents were sent to the archives.

Opponents didn’t jump on the double email allegations but questioned what was being shredded.

“It’s absolutely insane that a minister is able to destroy public information on a whim,” said Wildrose party leader Danielle Smith in a news release.

“We’ve got to change the way we handle and regard government information. It belongs to the people of Alberta. It is not the personal property of government ministers who can withhold or destroy it whenever they want to.”