Old Port of Montreal CEO accused of mishandling funds
Published Wednesday, April 25, 2012 10:01PM EDT
Opposition leader Thomas Mulcair says the latest allegations of misspending at a Crown corporation are the symptom of a spend-now, ask-forgiveness-later mentality encouraged by the handling of expense scandals in the prime minister's inner circle.
Talking to reporters after the NDP's caucus meeting, Mulcair said Prime Minister Stephen Harper has reinforced that message in the wake of revelations surrounding International Development Minister Bev Oda.
After Oda's expenses for a trip to London last summer grabbed headlines, the minister reimbursed money she was accused of misspending and issued an apology in the House of Commons.
When Mulcair was asked Wednesday to weigh in on reports the CEO and president of the Crown corporation responsible for managing Montreal's historic Old Port mishandled taxpayers' money, he was blunt.
"We're talking about open bar, do what you want, and the worst that can happen is you'll have to apologize and reimburse the money," Mulcair said in French.
According to the results of an investigation published in the daily Journal de Montreal on Wednesday, Old Port of Montreal Corporation CEO Claude Benoit spent thousands of dollars on a failed bid to evict a business from the strip.
The paper also alleges that taxpayers were charged $10,100 for a late 2008, early 2009 trip to Australia and New Zealand that included first class airfare, stays in luxury accommodation in both Sydney and Auckland, as well as two nights on a luxury cruise ship.
Benoit, who received the Order of Canada in 2004, claimed she worked for 12 days of the 29-day trip, even though she did not meet any officials during that time. Instead, she visited port facilities and the large "Southern Star" ferris wheel in Melbourne to come up with a nine-page PowerPoint presentation for other senior managers of the Old Port corporation.
At the time, Montreal was considering the installation of a similar wheel in the city.
The report also points to a $7,100 bill for trips to Sweden and Florida in the same period.
Benoit travelled to Cape Canaveral in June 2009 for the planned launch of the space shuttle Atlantis -- the crew of which included Canadian astronaut Julie Payette.
While the launch was postponed due to bad weather, the Port corporation said the $1,300 charged to taxpayers for travel and accommodation was justified because of the longstanding relationship between the Montreal Science Centre located in the Old Port and the Canadian Space Agency.
Other allegations include:
- Since 2009, the Old Port Corporation spent approximately $17,000 on two working retreats at Quebec's Mont-Tremblant resort
- The bill for 169 catered meals delivered to the Old Port corporation offices in that same period has totalled some $38,000
- Taxpayers were left with a $110,000 legal bill after an attempt to evict a business from the area ended with the business getting an injunction to stop the corporation from interfering
- Benoit has claimed a monthly $1,000 car allowance, despite living within walking distance of her office.
Treasury Board President Tony Clement called the spending "unacceptable."
So far, Benoit has refused requests for an interview.