Tuesday, April 12, 2011

An AG report extravaganza on Conservative G8 spending

That's The National's report from last night on the G8 funding in Tony Clement's riding that's suddenly become a major issue once again, speaking to pork barreling of the in-it-for-themselves variety and of course, abuse of taxpayer dollars. The report deals with the issue of whether the Conservatives misled Parliament in obtaining the $50 million funding that went into his riding, based on that Canadian Press report from yesterday. Also in the video, coverage of the astounding Sheila Fraser letter saying the Conservatives misrepresented her words in a parliamentary committee report. You get kicked out of university for things like that, Conservatives. Hopefully we'll be giving you the boot shortly enough.

Also doing on this G8 matter...last night we saw a second draft version of the AG's report leaked to QMI by a supposed Conservative supporter. That's some kind of weird version of damage control. It's here. Because while it does not contain the damning "Parliament was misinformed" by the government wording, the substance of the information found there supports that conclusion.

The government's request for funds from Parliament to cover the Clement $50 million gets this subheading: "The funding request was not made in a transparent manner." It's noted that the use of $50 million out of the $83 million in that Border Infrastructure Fund for G8 purposes was not disclosed in those Supplementary Estimates that went to Parliament. Sure, Treasury Board says it had granted an "exemption" for G8 projects so they wouldn't have to meet the Border fund's requirements (2.10) and it seems on that basis the officials say there was no need to spell the $50 million out in the Estimates before Parliament. But the upshot remains. Parliament didn't know there was $50 million for G8 legacy in that $83 million Border fund. So is that the government misleading? Or just not being transparent? What's the difference in the wording being used? It's not better.

You also get the clear sense from that draft that the $50 million for the G8 funding, announced by Tony Clement himself as Industry Minister, just didn't have any grounding in demonstrated need. Various department officials were asked how the figure was derived and they "were not able to provide us with any information and said their input had not been sought as part of that process." (2.8) That concern gets magnified because later the AG points out how the big $16.7 million G8 Centre, when announced, had already been determined by DFAIT not to be suitable. So why was it built? The same question arises for that $9.75 million Waterloo University research centre. The Waterloo research centre "remains deserted and without signage" according to a Globe report last night on these two white elephants totalling $27 million. Why did we spend it?

We really can't say. There is a whole other question about a lack of documentation backing up the project choices in Clement's riding. And it does indeed seem like the group deciding on projects was "A local group comprising the Minister of Industry, the Mayor of Huntsville, and the General Manager for the Deerhurst Resort, where the summit would take place." (2.17)

So it's not clear at all how that second draft somehow made things better for the Conservatives, if that was the intent. Maybe they're just muddying the waters more. Because granted, we have to wait for a final report from the AG, not likely to come until Parliament resumes sitting. But there are indications that may not be any better either:
"I have spoken to someone who has read several versions of this (auditor general's report) right up to the final one, who says there's not really a big substantial change," the CBC's Greg Weston said on Power & Politics with Evan Solomon. "There may have been that change, that one change, but there’s a lot of other stuff in that report. … There is a lot of damning information in that report."
In terms of the larger narratives, this G8 news is a reminder of the skewed priorities of the Conservatives, their questionable spending priorities. And secondly, it's again on par with the contemptuous lack of disclosure on prison costs and on the F35s. They didn't want to be clear on the grotesque $50 million for Clement's riding.

There's the democratic narrative too...our democracy doesn't work without accountability and oversight. And leaders and parties who will submit themselves to those things. The Conservatives look bad on that score here, there's no escaping that with multiple drafts and obfuscations.