Matthews’ information battle
Auditor General Heather Jacobs Matthews provided the following chronology of her Office’s four-month battle to get information from Government on why Ewart Brown and Derrick Burgess’ personal legal case was funded with taxpayer dollars:
May 2, 2011: Mrs Matthews asks the Ministry of Finance for relevant information on how the public purse was affected by the legal action, whether Cabinet approved the firm and for a copy of the Cabinet Conclusion. Ministry of Finance provides a copy of the Conclusion. The Ministry of Public Works further confirms that the payments to the firm were in respect of a matter filed on behalf of Dr Brown and Mr Burgess.
May 6: The Acting Solicitor General confirms to the Permanent Secretary that he has been instructed by the Acting Financial Secretary to terminate the engagement of the firm. He further requests the Permanent Secretary to confirm whether he had given instructions to the firm to bring an action in the personal names of Dr Brown and Mr Burgess.
May 6: The Permanent Secretary confirms that the “Ontario attorneys were given the green light to pursue this matter in the Ontario Courts” on behalf of Dr Brown and Mr Burgess. However, he declines to state who gave the green light. The Permanent Secretary further states that all invoices from the firm had been submitted to the Ministry for payment.
May 18: Mrs Matthews communicates her concern to the Acting Financial Secretary advising that the matter should be brought to the attention of Premier and Finance Minister Paula Cox. Mrs Matthews notes the inappropriateness of the agreement and says the monies must be recovered and returned to the public purse.
May 19: The Acting Financial Secretary agrees to notify Ms Cox.
July 15: Mrs Matthews redirects her request for information to Chambers, which had approved the agreement on behalf of Government.
July 15: The Acting Solicitor General indicates two files had been generated on this matter and that an additional “litigation” file was in the hands of overseas lawyers.
July 18: Mrs Matthews responds by requesting access to all legal correspondence on the matter.
July 21: Then-Attorney General Michael Scott replies that the information requested is subject to “legal privilege and the only person who can waive such privilege is the Government acting through the proper heads of Ministries or the Cabinet Secretary”. Mr Scott states more specific information should “be properly directed to the person to comply with the demand”.
July 24: Mrs Matthews lists specific requests for information from Mr Scott, including Government communications with the law firm and Dr Brown, and documents about payment.
July 27: A consultant to Mr Scott advises that the query is receiving the full attention it deserves.
August 18: The consultant advises that the matter is “complicated and involved many parties, goes to the highest levels of Government, is plagued by documentation, involves a foreign element and raises for consideration at least one fundamental legal issue”. The consultant asks Mrs Matthews for more information including sections of Financial Instructions which have been breached and names of the individuals who breached them.
August 23: The consultant advises that in order to avoid being in breach of the Act, he is referring the matter back to Mr Scott.
August 31: The Attorney General’s external legal advisers confirm to Mrs Matthews that “the Government instructed the Canadian attorneys to commence proceedings. The Attorney General’s Chambers, as the legal advisers to the Government, assisted in this process”.
September: The agreement is terminated.