Government by Gmail: Doug Ford’s chief of staff used private email for ‘political discussions’ – "gmail" – Google News

The Chief of Staff to Ontario Premier Doug Ford routinely relied on a personal email address to facilitate government-related communications, Global News has learned, despite his assertions to Ontario’s Integrity Commissioner that government work is always conducted using an official email address.

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Global News has viewed dozens of emails sent to and received from Patrick Sackville using a Gmail account in which documents were shared, stakeholder’s concerns were raised and communications strategies, on behalf of the Premier’s Office, were crafted.

Those emails stand in direct contradiction to what Sackville told Integrity Commissioner J. David Wake: “I do not conduct government business on my personal e-mail.”

In a letter to the commissioner earlier this year, Sackville also suggested it would be “inappropriate” to mix government and personal email and that he “only conduct(s) government business on my Premier’s Office e-mail address.”

Global News obtained a number of examples in which Sackville shares Google Slide decks to allow government staff to view and weigh in on provincial policy.

Global News

While Sackville did not respond to a request for comment, a spokesperson for the Premier’s Office confirmed that staff use non-government platforms for government-related business.

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“Google products like Google Docs have at times been used to support collaboration on materials or for political discussions,” the spokesperson told Global News in a statement.

“These materials have corresponding records on government networks and decisions or direction that inform government business are always provided through government networks, through government email and during official government briefings.”

Political critics say the emails raise new questions about whether the Ford government compartmentalizes information to keep it out of the public view and whether Sackville has access to other information relevant to the Greenbelt investigations that never came to light.

The Ontario NDP is calling for Sackville’s resignation.

Emails viewed by Global News span years

Peppered through the stack of emails viewed by Global News are signs – minor and major – that Sackville’s Gmail address has extensively been used for political discussion on official government business from the time he served as Ford’s Executive Director of Policy, then the Premier’s Principal Secretary, and ultimately as Chief of Staff.

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While Sackville never identifies himself by official title in any of the emails, the recipients of the emails — who are sometimes referred to as “colleagues” — suggest the messages are related to his position in the Premier’s office.

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All the communications in the emails viewed by Global News are to and from: MPPs, chiefs of staff, policy advisors, high-level employees in Premier Doug Ford’s Office and stakeholders.

In all instances, Sackville only uses private email addresses, such as Gmail, MSN and Hotmail accounts, suggesting widespread reliance on private email. In several cases, the emails are sent during working hours.

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Some of the emails include discussions on confidential government policy long before they were publicly announced by the Ford government, suggesting the private email address has been used by political staff to iron out the government’s direction before moving the conversation to government email addresses.

Global News also obtained several examples in which Sackville shares Google Slide decks and Google Docs to allow government staff to view and weigh in on provincial policy and legislation.

“Patrick Sackville has invited you to edit the following document,” one email reads giving the recipient access to a funding-related policy measure.

While the government said “decisions or direction” have always been provided through official government channels, Global News viewed one example where Sackville appears to directly greenlight policy over Gmail.

“Proceed,” Sackville said in the email after a long back-and-forth political discussion over another policy measure.

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On Friday, Global News asked Premier Doug Ford for his view of his staff using private email for government business.

“They shouldn’t, plain and simple,” Ford said flatly. “They should be using government-issued emails, it’s simple as that.”

Given Ford’s unequivocal view of the use of private emails, the NDP called for the premier to fire his chief of staff.

“The premier’s chief of staff appears to have repeatedly misled the Integrity Commissioner under oath,” said NDP Leader Marit Stiles. “This is yet another example of a senior member of Doug Ford’s team hiding things from the public.”

“Mr. Sackville must resign immediately, and if he won’t, the premier must fire him.”

What Sackville told the Integrity Comissioner

In late December, Sackville contacted Ontario’s Integrity Commissioner to reveal an “oversight,” a previously undisclosed Greenbelt-related email that had been sitting in his Gmail account since October 2022.

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Sackville – who insisted that he never used his Gmail account for work purposes – told the commissioner that he decided to sweep the email address again looking for records related to an NDP Freedom of Information Act request.

That email, sent nearly two weeks before the Ford government publicly revealed the plan to carve out land from the Greenbelt, included specific information related to the government’s policy, with the subject line “special project – GB.”

Sackville, who served as Ford’s Principal Secretary at the time, received the email from Ryan Amato, a central figure in the Greenbelt scandal who served as a go-between for the Premier’s Office, Housing Minister’s office and developers with land in the Greenbelt.

Amato’s email, exchanged with Sackville on Oct. 17, 2022, on personal email accounts, contained a “list of criteria for removals,” including what type of location should be considered, what type of infrastructure should exist on the land and what the potential offset plan should look like.

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Sackville later offered an explanation to the Integrity Commissioner for why the email remained hidden for more than a year.

“I do not conduct government business on my personal e-mail, and would not have expected or anticipated such an e-mail, particularly since there was some correspondence occurring on the government e-mails at that time,” Sackville said.

Sackville also laid out his view on how employees of the Ontario government should carry themselves when communicating about government business.

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“Government of Ontario employees are required to conduct government business using government e-mails and servers, to ensure transparency and effective record-keeping,” Sackville said. “I adhere to this important policy, and only conduct government business on my Premier’s Office e-mail address (”

Sackville suggested he uses the Gmail address for personal, party-related and non-government-related business outside working hours only.

While the Integrity Commissioner “accepted his explanation” he also said it was “unfortunate” that Sackville did not find the email “in accordance with the request for documents I made” during the Greenbelt investigation.

The Premier’s office says all political staff “have been reminded of their obligations to conduct government business solely on government accounts.”

“Record management is part of the ongoing training that all political staff receive. We are aware of this obligation and all staff have now signed the required annual attestation to confirm that they have managed records in accordance with rules established under applicable legislation,” a spokesperson told Global News.

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