Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Conservative turmoil in Vaughan

A bit of trouble for Conservatives in the city above Toronto: "Conservatives quit over Vaughan health-care money."
Two Conservatives have quit their own riding association in Vaughan north of Toronto, accusing incumbent candidate Julian Fantino and the Conservative government of handing $10 million in public funds to a private non-profit group involved in a major health-care development.

Richard Lorello, the local Conservative candidate in 2008, says he resigned because a federal grant, announced in March just before the election was called, is earmarked for the Vaughan Health Campus of Care (VHCC), which has two of Fantino's fundraisers as prime backers.

"The optics look really rather strange," said Lorello, "that the same people who helped Fantino are the same people [whose non-profit group is] receiving $10 million in government funds."

Developer Michael DeGasperis is chair and construction insurance man Sam Ciccolini is a director of the VHCC, which is a private, non-profit volunteer group that is involved in developing health-care facilities adjacent to a proposed new provincial hospital. The pair also served as fundraising co-chairs in Fantino's successful November 2010 byelection campaign.
Why a private group - albeit termed "non-profit" and volunteer - is receiving public funds for health care to the tune of $10 million is worth scrutiny. This $10 million isn't going towards a new hospital's construction despite the fact Fantino emphasized a hospital first and foremost during the byelection. The priorities suddenly interchanged with the federal announcement on March 16th sidelining a hospital:
A new Government of Canada investment in the Vaughan Health Campus of Care will allow the organization to begin its plans for a one-stop Campus of Care, including a hospital, that will improve the quality of life of Vaughan families and create new economic opportunities.
With a contribution of up to $10 million through FedDev Ontario's Prosperity Initiative, the Vaughan Health Campus of Care will begin developing an innovative network of health-related industries, by bringing health facilities, new life science businesses and educational and research institutions together on one site. The campus will have a strong innovation and commercialization focus, and by encouraging collaboration, it will help bring new advancements in the life sciences to market. The one-of-a-kind project will generate skilled jobs, bolster Vaughan's knowledge economy, provide greater economic opportunities for the region and help improve local health services for residents. (emphasis added)
Further, that two people chairing and on the board of the VHCC group were fundraising co-chairs for Julian Fantino in the November by-election, that does raise conflict of interest questions, as Pogge points out this afternoon.

Looks like this may raise larger questions in the campaign about health care priorities under Harper courtesy of these Vaughan Conservatives who have resigned.