Draft report questions Conservative G8 spending
On the eve of the campaign's first leaders' debate, two draft reports from the auditor general raise new questions about how the Conservatives decided to fund projects ahead of last year's G8 summit.
Two different drafts of the report were leaked to the press on Monday. An earlier January draft was obtained by The Canadian Press, while a revised February draft was obtained by CTV News.
Both drafts offer details about how nearly $50 million was spent on G8 Legacy Infrastructure Fund projects -- 32 in total -- in Huntsville, Ont., and surrounding areas, mostly in the riding of Industry Minister Tony Clement.
The January draft accuses the government of misleading Parliament in order to win approval for the $50 million funding request, and alleges the approval process may have been illegal.
CTV's Ottawa Bureau Chief Robert Fife obtained a February draft of the report from the Conservatives, who claimed it was the final version.
Fife told CTV News Channel that the February report "does not say that Parliament was misinformed, nor is there any suggestion of illegality." But it does say the government did not transparently identify the nature of the approval process for the $50 million fund.
The later draft is also critical of some of the expenditures, particularly a $17 million community centre that was originally designed to serve as a coordination and logistics command centre.
According to the February draft, by the time the centre was announced in February 2009, the Foreign Affairs Department had already determined it would not be constructed in time to be used as intended.
"Certainly the auditor general isn't happy with the way the money was spent and the way the approval process was done," Fife said.
Earlier Monday afternoon, Auditor General Sheila Fraser said she will not release the final draft of her report while Parliament is not in session, despite calls to do so by the federal parties.
"We will not release or comment on our audit report on the G8 Legacy Infrastructure Fund. Under the Auditor General Act, we can only present reports when Parliament is sitting," Fraser said in a statement.
"The Office of the Auditor General of Canada remains the custodian of its reports until they are presented to the Speaker of the House of Commons for tabling."
In her statement, Fraser said that during her department's audit process, early drafts of her reports are shared with various government departments in order to check facts, obtain more information or allow departments to prepare responses to her findings.
"Sometimes during the process of fact validation, additional information is brought to our attention," Fraser said. "Only the final report that is tabled in Parliament represents our audit findings and conclusions."
The earlier Jan. 13 version of the report suggested the manner in which the funding for the G8 infrastructure legacy fund was approved may have been illegal and the money was ultimately used on projects that were of dubious connection to the G8 summit in Huntsville.
The January draft report said that some of these projects included spending:
- $274,000 on public toilets located 20 kilometres from the summit site
- $100,000 on a gazebo that was an hour's drive away
- $1.1 million for sidewalk and tree upgrades 100 kilometres away
- $194,000 for a park 100 kilometres away
- $745,000 on downtown improvements for three towns nearly 70 kilometres away
Canadian Press reporter Joan Bryden said the January draft indicated that the government tabled supplementary spending estimates that asked for $83 million for a border infrastructure fund, which was supposed to pay for improvements at Canada's border crossings.
"Why 50 million for Huntsville and environs? Why was that suddenly so important, or such a large amount of money? Why did it go to projects that had nothing to do with the summit," Brydon said Monday evening on CTV's Power Play.
The draft report obtained by CP suggested that Huntsville Mayor Claude Doughty, Deerhurst Resort general manager Joseph Klein and Clement helped decide which G8 projects were funded.
Doughty denied Monday that he had any final say in where the money went, saying it was ultimately decided by Infrastructure Canada.
"There were no such meetings, no such arbitrary decisions made as to which projects would go forward, and clearly we didn't have that authority -- that was Infrastructure Canada," he said.
"I spent many, many hours of preparation, working with Infrastructure Canada. It wasn't done by Mr. Klein and Mr. Clement and myself in some surreptitious meeting."
In June, the Conservatives defended the use of the G8 Legacy Fund, admitting some of the money was going to projects unrelated to the summit.
"A limited number of projects (are) designed in the legacy to say, ‘Listen, the folks in this region are going to endure a heck of a lot of security, a heck of a lot of challenges during that G8 summit, and just as a thank you we're supporting some public infrastructure projects,'" Conservative cabinet minister John Baird said.
Parties want report released
NDP candidate Paul Dewar said Monday his party wants a public inquiry into the summit spending, over concerns about numerous unanswered questions.
"How do you figure that $1 billion could be spent on a couple of days of meetings? How do you figure that there's tens of millions of dollars shovelled in to the riding of one particular member? Talk about an extravagant riding buy," Dewar told Power Play.
Former Tory cabinet minister Stockwell Day, who is not running in the current election, said all funds related to the summits "were properly and legally appropriated."
But he cautioned against jumping to conclusions about the auditor general's findings based on a draft of her report.
"We need to reflect on what the auditor general has said, that this was an early draft, that it is not unusual at all that a final report is different than the draft itself," Day told Power Play.
Dimitri Soudas, the communications director to Prime Minister Stephen Harper, told CTV Monday that the Conservatives wanted Fraser to release her report in full and were prepared to help her to make that happen quickly.
"We are prepared to help facilitate the release of the final version of the report in any way necessary," Soudas told CTV News by email.
The auditor general's report was due to be released in early April, but was held back after the current election was called.
Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff said the allegations in the January draft report were "shocking" and he questioned "how Canadians can have confidence in a government that treats public money in this way." He also called for the report to be released Monday.
Bloc Quebecois Leader Gilles Duceppe said the report should be released in advance of the English-language leaders' debate on Tuesday evening.
NDP Leader Jack Layton accused the Tories of "hiding facts from Canadians, leading Parliament down the garden path, and possibly breaking the law while doing so."
This isn't the first time spending in Conservative ridings has been a campaign issue.
During his party's platform presentation last week, Harper fought back against accusations the government has spent more stimulus cash in ridings with its members in office than those without. It was a response to comments made by Montreal Conservative candidate Larry Smith, who said it's "normal" that ridings with elected members of the government would get more support.
Harper countered that his party has spent money throughout the country, arguing it should be applauded for its fair distribution of stimulus funds.
With files from The Canadian Press