Premier Ernie Eves refused yesterday to answer questions about two controversies over fundraising and ministerial expenses that are dogging his government.
On his first day in Question Period in a week, Mr. Eves ignored questions about the involvement of a long-time fundraiser for the Progressive Conservative Party in loans of $36.3-million in government-guaranteed pension funds to a major Tory donor.
The Premier also sidestepped questions about Environment Minister Chris Stockwell's expenses in Europe last July for which a Crown agency that was under his control at the time paid $10,000.
By funnelling the expenses through the agency, Ontario Power Generation, Mr. Stockwell avoided any public scrutiny of his records. An earlier examination of Mr. Stockwell's records forced him to repay $3,000 in restaurant and bar bills.
In a confrontation with reporters outside the legislature, Mr. Stockwell continued to insist that he did not make the comments attributed to him in a Globe and Mail story that revealed the trip expenses controversy last Thursday.
However, a tape recording of Mr. Stockwell's May 20 interview with the reporter, Martin Mittelstaedt, showed that Mr. Stockwell had said exactly what he was quoted as saying.
Mr. Stockwell has asked Integrity Commissioner Coulter Osborne to rule on whether he erred in not reporting as a gift the $5,000 to $10,000 in expenses paid for by Ontario Power Generation for "ground transportation."
Liberal Energy critic Michael Bryant said this does not deal with the fundamental question of whether it was wrong for an agency under Mr. Stockwell's control to pay part of his expenses for a two-week European trip.
Mr. Eves is not expected to be back in Question Period to face queries on these controversies until next Monday at the earliest, according to his published schedule. That could be his last appearance in Question Period before the legislature adjourns for the summer.
On the $36.3-million in mortgage loans made by the Ontario Pension Board, Liberal Leader Dalton McGuinty said Mr. Eves owes voters an explanation because the loans reflect on Mr. Eves's "ethical standards."
"Your party's biggest fundraiser lent your party's biggest donor millions of pension-fund dollars. The deal is very unusual, both from an industry perspective and from the perspective of the Ontario pension fund itself," Mr. McGuinty told Mr. Eves in the legislature.
"Fundamentally, this comes down to your leadership, your ethical standards, those that you set for yourself and your government," Mr. McGuinty charged.
"This deal stinks. It's like an odour in an elevator: it's just not going to go away. It's going to hang around for a long time, and we'll keep bringing it back to you, because that's where the buck stops."
Instead of commenting on the loans to companies that are linked to Mario Cortellucci, Mr. Eves referred all questions to Management Board Chairman David Tsubouchi.
Starting last fall, the Ontario Pension Board, in a break with conventional pension-fund practices, made the mortgage loans on seven parcels of undeveloped farm land in Brampton and Vaughan. The pension board is chaired by Donald Weiss, the former executive director of the PC Ontario Fund, the Tories' fundraising arm.
Only firms linked to Mr. Cortellucci received loans on unserviced, undeveloped land. The pension board made no similar loans to other companies, Mr. McGuinty told the legislature.
From March to December, 2000, Mr. Weiss spent nine months serving as both executive director of the PC Ontario Fund and as a director of the province's pension board, which controls $12-billion in assets.
He did not return telephone calls asking about the two jobs.
Party contribution records show that companies linked to Mr. Cortellucci contributed at least $21,300 during those nine months to the Tories. For all of 2000, the companies contributed another $23,602. Since 1995, companies linked to Mr. Cortellucci have donated more than $1-million to the Tories.
On the record
A tape recording of an interview between Environment Minister Chris Stockwell and Globe and Mail reporter Martin Mittelstaedt shows that the quotations from Mr. Stockwell used in a news story are accurate, despite Mr. Stockwell's insistence that they were fabricated.
In an interview on May 20 in the legislative building, Mr. Stockwell defended the trip and the expenses:
Mr. Mittelstaedt: "When I looked at the itinerary, it looked to me very light. There were never any meetings in the afternoon, or almost never."
Mr. Stockwell: "I thought we had a pretty heavy agenda. They were long meetings. We met quite a bit. I don't think it was light at all. We were very busy."
Later in the interview, Mr. Stockwell talked about a stay in Paris:
Mr. Mittelstaedt: "In Paris, the others stayed at a hotel but you didn't have any hotel expenditures."
Mr. Stockwell: "I paid my own hotel expenditures."
Mr. Mittelstaedt: "Why would you have done that?"
Mr. Stockwell: "Because we had a prolonged stay in Paris, we arranged meetings that were a little sparse, so I decided it was better I paid them. You have to understand, at the time, the FOIs [Freedom of Information requests]were a big deal, expenses. I just didn't want any questions about any of my expenses. So that's why I paid them myself."
Yesterday he denied to reporters outside the legislature that he had made the statements.
Mr. Stockwell was asked, "You said he [Mr. Mittelstaedt]made stuff up?"
He replied, "It's my quotes."
The reporter then asked, "He made up your quotes?"
Mr. Stockwell replied, "I never said what he said I said, if you follow my reasoning."
Yesterday's questions followed Mr. Stockwell's comments about the story in the legislature on Thursday when he first denied its accuracy.