Monday, April 11, 2011

G8 spending by Harper Conservatives "may have been illegal"

"Tories misled Parliament on G8 spending: AG." The highly reputable and admired Auditor General has drafted a report and it's been leaked on the eve of the debates to Canadian Press:
The Harper government misinformed Parliament to win approval for a $50-million G8 fund that lavished money on dubious projects in a Conservative riding, the auditor general has concluded.

And she suggests the process by which the funding was approved may have been illegal.

The findings are contained in the draft of a confidential report Sheila Fraser was to have tabled in Parliament on April 5. The report analyzed the $1-billion cost of staging last June's G8 summit in Ontario cottage country and a subsequent gathering of G20 leaders in downtown Toronto.

It was put on ice when the Harper government was defeated and is not due to be released until sometime after the May 2 election. However, a Jan. 13 draft of the chapter on the G8 legacy infrastructure fund was obtained by a supporter of an opposition party and shown to The Canadian Press.

The draft reveals that a local "G8 summit liaison and implementation team" — Industry Minister Tony Clement, the mayor of Huntsville, and the general manager of Deerhurst Resort which hosted the summit — chose the 32 projects that received funding. It says there was no apparent regard for the needs of the summit or the conditions laid down by the government.
The draft report says that in November 2009, the government tabled supplementary spending estimates which requested $83 million for a Border Infrastructure Fund aimed at reducing congestion at border crossings. But the government did not reveal that it intended to devote $50 million of that money to a G8 legacy fund, even though Huntsville is nowhere near the Canada-U.S. border.

The Canadian Press was not given access to the entire report on the $1 billion in G8 and G20 spending, and Fraser's conclusions on overall spending were not available.

In the draft chapter on the legacy fund, Fraser notes the Appropriations Act stipulates that funding is supposed to be allocated based on the items presented in the estimates.

"This ensures that public funds are spent as authorized by Parliament for the purposes intended by Parliament," she writes.

"We found that money expended for the G8 infrastructure projects under the Border Infrastructure Fund were approved by Parliament without any indication that $50 million of the appropriations for border congestion reduction would be spent on G8 legacy projects.

"Therefore, in our opinion, Parliament was misinformed."
The suggestion in the report is that it was all controlled by the political staff, not departmental officials:
In an attempt to find out why $50 million was deemed necessary for Parry Sound-Muskoka, Fraser's auditors interviewed senior officials at Infrastructure Canada, Industry Canada, Foreign Affairs, the RCMP and the office responsible for co-ordinating security for the summit.

"Senior officials were not able to provide us with an explanation as they explained that their input was not sought as part of the process," the report says.

That proved to be a pattern as Fraser's team attempted to find out how projects were chosen and what possible support they might have provided to the summit.
The Liberal party has calculated that Clement's riding has received about $92 million in federal infrastructure funding, including the legacy fund and other economic stimulus programs — more than four times the average $15 million to $20 million most ridings in the country received.
My. Law and order is not just a slogan, Harper Conservatives. The spin from Harper et al. will be herculean but when it comes down to it, the Auditor General is believed by Canadians. This is big.

Well timed, I'm thinking a question or two might come up on this in that there debate in front of the nation tomorrow evening...