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HomeBusinessHorgan hypocrisy: last text messages as premier deleted

Horgan hypocrisy: last text messages as premier deleted

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Bob Mackin

The B.C. government’s freedom of information office has admitted that all of John Horgan’s text messages from his final three days as premier were deleted.

John Horgan (Twitter)

A request for all of Horgan’s sent and received texts from Nov. 16 to 18 resulted in a no records response. David Eby was sworn-in as Horgan’s successor on Nov. 18.

“I can confirm that the ex-premier’s government phone was searched, and Office of the Premier did not locate records,” said an email from senior FOI analyst Sascha Pannwitz.

”As the text messages were casual, non-substantive, and not required for ongoing business needs, they were deleted under the transitory records schedule.”

Jason Woywada, executive director of the B.C. Freedom of Information and Privacy Association (FIPA), said the transitory label can sometimes be justified. For instance, a public official’s messages about arranging a coffee meeting need not be kept in perpetuity. But, Woywada said, deciding what is genuinely transitory is subjective and open to abuse. 

“We have no ability to trust that the Premier’s Office is making a decision that is in the public interest and that they are retaining the records that they should and/or are withholding the records that they should,” Woywada said in an interview. 

Equally troubling, he said, is the suggestion that Horgan’s last 72 hours as premier could have elapsed without being party to a single message of any lasting importance. 

“It’s passing strange that the premier didn’t make a decision via text message in the last three days in office,” Woywada said. “That seems incredibly low possibility and incredibly low probability. So part of what’s happening here is by not releasing information, they create the very scandal that starts to give rise and entrench a narrative that they have something to hide all the time.”

Horgan did not respond to interview requests.

In 2015, while leader of the NDP opposition, Horgan criticized what he called “a culture of deception, deceit, and delete, delete, delete” after the Information and Privacy Commissioner found widespread triple-deleting under BC Liberal Premier Christy Clark. During Question Period on Oct. 27, 2015, Horgan scoffed at Clark’s suggestion that many of the messages were transitory.

From chief of staff Geoff Meggs’s text messages, obtained via FOI.

“It may well be that the Premier is transitory, and I’m hopeful that that’s the case, but the documents that belong to British Columbians should be available when they’re asked for, and that has not been the case on her watch,” Horgan said. “The most open and transparent government in British Columbia’s history is not overseen by her.”

The Office of the Premier, however, did release text messages via FOI from nine people inside and outside government to Horgan’s chief of staff, Geoff Meggs. 

External correspondents mostly wished Horgan and Meggs well and sought their personal contact information.  A Nov. 17, 9:21 p.m. message from Bob, with initials B.D., said “Great working with you Geoff. Hell of a ride!” Bob Dewar was Horgan’s 2017 campaign manager and an aide until his 2021 retirement.

Meggs sent himself a test text, while a staffer wondered whether he wanted her to forward messages from his government email account to a personal account. The next page was withheld entirely under a privacy clause. 

The exchange with Horgan’s deputy minister Lori Wanamaker was mostly censored, but one with press secretary Aileen Machell was mostly visible. She sought approval Nov. 17 to attach Horgan’s name to a quote written about Eby for placement in a news release about the 37th premier’s swearing-in: “When we formed government, I assigned David Eby to tackle some of our toughest problems. He put out the dumpster fire at ICBC and ended an era of money laundering a previous government ignored. He is a roll-up-your sleeves guy who will work hard to improve the lives of British Columbians.”

Replied Meggs: “OK, will see him in 90 minutes or so. Is a quote necessary?”

“We can remove it but it might look weird to not have a quote,” Machell replied. “Whatever you would like me to do.”

The quote attributed to Horgan appeared in the Nov. 18 news release. 

More than three hours after Eby’s swearing-in, the “talent director” at the government’s human resources department texted Meggs. “I’m wondering if you are free for a moment,” wrote Meg Burrows. Meggs did not respond by text. 

Eby had previously announced the replacements of Meggs with Matt Smith and Wanamaker with Shannon Salter. It took until the week of Christmas for the Office of the Premier to admit that Meggs left with a $339,784 severance package, only exceeded by Wanamaker’s $591,089 golden parachute.

Horgan came to power in 2017 after promising to improve the FOI law. The NDP government also promised in early 2019 that it would finally add the Legislative Assembly’s administration. Instead, the NDP government imposed a $10 application fee for FOI requests in late 2021. 

Horgan backed down from an attempt to exempt the Premier’s Office from FOI requests and stopped short of fulfilling a promise for a government-wide duty to document law. The watered down measure threatens a fine up to $50,000 for wilfully destroying records in order to avoid complying with an FOI request.

FIPA’s Woywada said it was yet another case of a political party in opposition demanding greater government transparency until it got into power.

“It’s important that some of these political parties actually start acting on increasing government transparency as they get into office,” he said. 

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