AG slams government over secrecy on G8 spending
CTV.ca News Staff
Published Thursday, June 9, 2011 8:39PM EDT
Last Updated Saturday, May 19, 2012 5:01AM EDT
A long-awaited report from the auditor general says the government did not tell Parliament about its plans for a $50-million G8 fund, which ultimately pumped millions of dollars into projects in Tony Clement's Ontario riding.
Released Thursday, the report said the government "did not clearly or transparently" identify how the money would be spent when asking for parliamentary approval for the funds that paid for G8 legacy infrastructure projects.
Instead, the government asked Parliament to approve supplementary estimates of $83 million for a border infrastructure fund that was supposed to reduce congestion at border crossings.
But $50 million of that funding was spent on infrastructure in the Ontario region where G8 leaders met last summer -- hundreds of kilometres away from the nearest border.
"When government presents a request for funds to Parliament, it should be transparent about the intended use of money," Interim Auditor General John Wiersema said Thursday.
Wiersema told CTV's Power Play that the findings in his report were "troubling."
He said that the government knew it was misleading Parliament on the border fund.
"It was presented to Parliament as part of the border infrastructure fund when everyone at the time it was going to be used for the G8 Legacy Fund," he said. "Asking for money for one purpose and using it for another purpose, is a serious problem."
Responding to the auditor general's concerns about the way the government sought the funds from Parliament, Clement said it may be necessary to take a closer look at the process for such requests because they may need updating.
"As a government that is committed to openness and transparency, we want to ensure that parliamentarians receive the information that they need," Clement said Thursday.
"As such, I have already directed Treasury Board Secretariat officials to look at how this perhaps anachronistic process can be improved."
Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird said Thursday that the government "will be taking steps to ensure that the process going forward will be more robust" when it seeks to inform parliamentarians about future requests for funds.
The report also criticizes a lack of documentation from the government on how 32 infrastructure projects were selected for undertaking in the Parry Sound-Muskoka region, the riding Clement has represented since being elected to Parliament five years ago.
"Projects were supposed to support the safe, secure and successful hosting of the summit by improving travel safety, enhancing the image of the region and improving the security of residents and visitors during the event," says the auditor general's report, indicating that the money was supposed to help get the Muskoka area in shape for the G8 summit.
Some 242 projects were potentially in the running for funding, but federal auditors were not able to find documentation on how and why the government chose the 32 projects that were completed.
Wiersema said he's "very concerned" about the lack of supporting documentation for the infrastructure projects in the Parry Sound-Muskoka area.
"Supporting documentation is important for transparency and accountability," he said.
Interim Liberal Leader Bob Rae said it appears that Clement and a small number of people decided what projects were going to go forward and they did not explain to public servants how they came to their final decisions.
"This was an entirely secretive, political process for which there was no public accountability and absolutely no process that meets any kind of smell test or any kind of test that we would apply to public spending of this dimension," Rae said.
Clement told reporters that he consulted with local mayors when working out the final list of 32 projects that were later approved by Baird.
"Mr. Baird came out saying, ‘I did it all' but nobody believes that for a second, those decisions were made on a political basis by Mr. Clement," Rae said on Power Play.
Question period heats up
NDP deputy leader Thomas Mulcair led the opposition charge in question period over the auditor general's report.
"There was no justification for the decisions that for the most part had nothing to do with the objective," Mulcair said in French.
Prime Minister Stephen Harper responded that every dollar has been accounted for and the auditor general made "suggestions to improve the process and we will do so."
Harper said the G8/G20 programs were announced publicly and debated properly in the House.
NDP MP Charlie Angus slammed Clement in particular for his "slush fund.
"There was no oversight, there was no documentation, there was no questions asked, this is one step up from cash in a paper bag," he said. "Is this how the minister plans to run the Treasury Board?"
Rae was aghast on how the border infrastructure fund could end up being used so far away from the U.S. border. Sounds like we agree with him
"Huntsville is 300 miles (480 kilometres) away from the closest border at Niagara Falls, how do you explain this bait and switch?" Rae asked in question period.
Harper responded that the border fund is "frequently used for projects that are not in border communities" to groans from the opposition benches.
A separate chapter in the report says the Harper government presented the security costs for the back-to-back G8 and G20 summits separately, which made it difficult for MPs to fully understand the total.
The report says the combined cost of the G8 and G20 summits appears likely to come in at $664 million, well below the $1.1 billion that had been projected. But the auditor general says the reason for the cost-savings is because poor co-ordination forced departments to over-budget and set up unnecessary contingency funds when planning the two summits.
Rae suggested that savings or not, the $664-million price tag was too high for the summits, considering that France spent only $29 million on this year's G8 summit in Deauville.
"We're talking a number which is astronomically higher than any comparable figure for summits and I think Canadians have still been stuck with an enormous bill for what is essentially a three-day event," Rae said Thursday.
Prior draft versions of the auditor general's report were leaked to the media during the recent federal election campaign, though the final version was not released until Thursday.
After the draft versions were leaked, the Conservatives and other opposition parties urged then-auditor general Sheila Fraser to release the full report. But she said she was not legally able to do so because Parliament was not sitting.
Fraser has since retired from her job. Wiersema, her former deputy, is currently serving as the interim auditor general.
In late April, a Toronto woman launched a lawsuit in Federal Court to try to get the report released, but a judge said there was not time to hear the case before the May 2 election.
With files from The Canadian Press