Fi­nally, some­one held truly ac­count­able in gas-plant scan­dal

The Peterborough Examiner - - Opinion -

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.

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