Finally, someone held truly accountable in gas-plant scandal
The slow-moving wheels of justice ground out an exceedingly fine decision last week when they rolled David Livingston toward a jail cell for his role in the coverup of Ontario’s gas-plant scandal.
The chief-of-staff for former premier Dalton McGuinty, Livingston was found guilty in January for ordering the destruction of records related to the provincial Liberal government’s cancellation of two gaspowered generating stations.
While Livingston’s four-month sentence may strike some as a modest rebuke, it is a welcome and unusual example of a major player in a Canadian political scandal being held accountable by being put behind bars.
The jail time and one-year’s probation that accompanies it are fully deserved, even though first-time-offender Livingston is out on bail and has launched an appeal of his sentence.
Far from being minor offences, his crimes of attempted mischief and the unauthorized use of a computer struck at the heart of democracy in Ontario.
Such actions should be severely denounced.
When Livingston ordered the hard-drives scrubbed in early 2013, nagging questions remained unanswered about the government’s decision to cancel construction of two gas-plants — one in 2010, the other just days before the 2011 provincial election.
Before those hard-drives were erased, there were indications a standing committee of the legislature would demand to see the records in the premier’s office that could shed light on the gas-plant decisions.
Although McGuinty had chosen to resign as premier by then, many Ontarians were still hungry for this information.
The cancellations — which the opposition Progressive Conservatives and New Democrats both supported — were largely perceived as a blatant bid by the Liberals to hold onto seats in the 2011 election.
The cancellations were derided even more when their outrageous cost to taxpayers was revealed to be $1.1 billion.
People wanted more facts about the controversial decisions and their wasteful legacy.
Thanks to the disappearing act engineered by Livingston in the premier’s office, people have no way of knowing what actually went on and whether the political players in this game acted in a good, bad or indifferent fashion. That’s a shame.
But if Livingston cannot be held accountable for the information he ordered scrubbed, thank goodness he’s being held accountable for ordering the scrubbing.
In delivering his sentence last week, Justice Timothy Lipson said Livingston “abused his position of power to promote the interests of the governing party at the expense of the democratic process.”
Indeed, Livingston’s “conduct was an affront to and an attack upon democratic institutions and values,” according to Justice Lipson.
As Ontario nears another election, these are words for voters to savour and candidates to take to heart.
Ontarians have gone through two provincial elections since the gas-plant scandal erupted in 2011.
Considering that McGuinty is long gone, that the Liberals have consistently been re-elected — though once with a minority — and that many other warts disfigure this 15-year-old government, it’s doubtful either the gas-plant cancellations or Livingston’s conviction will weigh heavily on voters come June 7.
But Livingston’s fate should remind politicians and bureaucrats alike that the coverup of a political error can be worse than the error itself.
And democracy is not merely a way for the few to wield power, it is a precious system designed to inform and empower the many.