Former chief of staff to premier Dalton McGuinty gets four months in jail for wiping hard drives in wake of gas plants scandal

Published on April 11, 2018

David Livingston was convicted of unauthorized use of a computer system for arranging a password that enabled a private contractor to clear hard drives in the premier’s office before Kathleen Wynne took power.

A former chief of staff to premier Dalton McGuinty has been sentenced to four months in jail, 12 months probation and 100 hours of community service for his role in the wiping of hard drives in the wake of the $1.1-billion gas plants scandal.

David Livingston, 65, was convicted in January of unauthorized use of a computer system for arranging a special password that enabled a private contractor to clear hard drives in the premier’s office before Kathleen Wynne took power in February 2013.

Livingston looked up and gulped twice as Justice Timothy Lipson hinted a jail term would be imposed. His wife wrapped her arm around his after sentencing.

Lipson said the offence was “very serious,” because it thwarted freedom-of-information requests and likely production orders from a legislative committee of MPPS.

“The defendant’s conduct was egregious,” Lipson told a hushed courtroom, calling the offence “an attempt to interfere with parliamentary democracy.”

He noted Livingston had been “expressly cautioned” by senior civil servants against deleting government records.

Lipson branded the scheme a “dishonest” way to protect McGuinty’s government from political fallout over the cancellations of the gas plants in Mississauga and Oakville before the 2011 election.

Crown attorney Tom Lemon had called for a six month jail term to “adequately denounce his conduct and deter others.”

Livingston, who was led out of the court in handcuffs, cast a mournful, sideways glance to family and friends on his way to a holding cell in the basement at Old City Hall.

His lawyer, Brian Gover, called the sentence “harsh,” said he would appeal and seek bail for his client later Wednesday.

The two gas-fired power plants in Oakville and Mississauga were unpopular with local residents. Their cancellations prompted the New Democrats and Progressive Conservatives to accuse McGuinty’s government of wasting taxpayer money to save Liberal seats in the western reaches of the GTA. As it turned out, the election was close and the Liberals were reduced to a minority.

Two other charges against Livingston were dropped during the trial that began last September.

Livingston, a career TD banker, left Bay Street to run the government agency Infrastructure Ontario before being recruited to run the premier’s office in what turned out to be McGuinty’s final 10 months in office at the height of the gas plants furore.

An Ontario Provincial Police investigation began in the spring of 2013 and charges were laid in late 2015 against Livingston and former deputy chief of staff Laura Miller, who was acquitted in their trial, which began last September.

Livingston’s lawyer told court in February that the last five years have been difficult and the personal fallout is enough of a deterrent.

“The years of stress and loss of employment status … , the disgrace and stigma he has suffered … will deter others,” Gover said at the time.

During the trial, court heard that Livingston dimissed as “political bullshit” the legal powers of an opposition-dominated legislative committee to demand sensitive documents on the plant cancellations during the minority government. He was more contrite at his sentencing hearing in February.

“I apologize to my friends and my family for the anguish I have put them through. I regret the time and money that have been required to investigate and prosecute this case.”

McGuinty was not a subject of the OPP investigation and co-operated with police.

At Queen’s Park, where news of the sentencing came during the morning question period in the Legislature, reaction was swift.

Progressive Conservative MPP Vic Fedeli, mindful of the looming June 7 election, said “over the last 15 years, there has been a pattern of political corruption in this Liberal government.”

“They consistently put their political self-interests and their insider friends ahead of the hard-working Ontario taxpayer,” said Fedeli (Nipissing).

“It’s upsetting and angering when a senior operative in the premier’s office is brought before the courts, and sentenced to four months in prison,” he said.

NDP Leader Andrea Horwath reminded the Liberals in the House that one of their own was headed to jail.

Attorney General Yasir Naqvi noted that the government had strengthened archiving procedures in the wake of the debacle to ensure that public documents are preserved.

With files from Robert Benzie