The NDP has obtained more documents that appear to contradict Tony Clement's insistence he was not involved in carving up a $50-million fund to spruce up his riding before last year's G8 summit.
The Treasury Board President told a Commons committee he simply played a “co-ordinating role,” forwarding the wish lists of mayors in his Ontario cottage country riding to John Baird, infrastructure minister at the time, who decided which projects would get funding.
But municipal documents obtained by the NDP through provincial freedom-of-information legislation tell a different story.
The documents show it was the manager of Mr. Clement's Parry Sound–Muskoka constituency office who put out a call to municipalities for funding applications, specifying the kinds of projects that were wanted.
“I have been asked to put out a call for G8 submissions specific to the enhancement of the downtown area's [sic]in each town and municipality,” Sondra Read wrote in a March 30, 2009, email to nine mayors and other municipal officials.
“We are looking for storefront renovations, roadwork, landscaping and general beautification, lighting, signage, anything that will enhance and is specific to the downtown area.”
Ms. Read advised the municipalities to forward their applications to her and she would forward them to FedNor, the economic development agency for Northern Ontario over which Mr. Clement, then the industry minister, presided.
The email appears to be at odds with Mr. Clement's testimony before the Commons public accounts committee this month.
The Treasury Board President vehemently denied opposition accusations that he and his officials were involved in selecting the 32 projects that ultimately received almost $45-million.
“That's just a myth,” he told the committee. “It never happened that way. We were not involved in selecting these projects.”
Ms. Read's reference to FedNor also appears to contradict Mr. Clement's assertion that no government department or agency, other than Mr. Baird's infrastructure department, was involved in the selection process.
The minutes of a Feb. 27, 2009, meeting with local officials also appears to contradict that assertion. The minutes show that FedNor official Tom Dodds advised that “FedNor is going to evaluate all projects applying basic tourism principles and provide a recommendation in a report for Mar. 30.”
In her last report in June, former auditor-general Sheila Fraser slammed the government for an unprecedented lack of any documentation to explain how G8 legacy projects were chosen. She said other departments and agencies insisted they were not involved and, therefore, could not provide any paper trail.
Mr. Clement told the public accounts committee that his mayors initially came up with 242 projects worth about $500-million. When he advised them they'd have to whittle their wish lists down to only priority projects, Mr. Clement said the mayors came back with applications for 33 projects – 32 of which were ultimately approved by Mr. Baird, while one was withdrawn.
Liberal MP Gerry Byrne expressed incredulity that the mayors “self-evaluated” their competing wish lists and pared them down “with surgical precision” to those projects which were cleared for funding. But Clement rejected Byrne's suggestion he was the “guiding hand” behind the choices.
Here again, the new documents obtained by the NDP appear to contradict Mr. Clement.
In an April 20, 2009, email to Ms. Read, the chief administrative officer of Gravenhurst, Ont. provides an updated list of projects, including notification that the town – on Mr. Clement's recommendation – is withdrawing its application to fund construction of a centennial centre.
“Minister Clement has advised that this project should be removed from the G8 project list and be included in the Town of Gravenhurst's application for the Building Canada Fund [a national infrastructure fund]– on the advice of Minister Clement, please remove this project from the G8 project list.”
The documents also show that a staffer in Mr. Clement's ministerial office, David Pierce, advised the Township of Muskoka Lakes that two of its proposed projects would not receive funding due to the fact the legacy fund's limited budget was insufficient to cover all the 200-plus proposals initially received.
And he made it clear that funding decisions were being made by Mr. Clement's office and Industry Department officials – not Mr. Baird's infrastructure team.
“The minister's staff and departmental officials have reviewed all proposals received in accordance with the above considerations,” Mr. Pierce wrote “on behalf of Minister Clement” in a July 2009 letter to the township's chief administrative officer.
“We have determined that the focus and priority of federal support for community based, G8 Summit-related projects will include promotional activities for the area, infrastructure and legacy projects.”
The documents show that municipalities certainly believed Mr. Clement had the final word on which projects would receive funding. Muskoka Lakes township, for instance, submitted its wish list to Mr. Clement “for your consideration and approval.”
During his appearance before the public accounts committee, New Democrat MP Charlie Angus repeatedly asked Mr. Clement to table the 242 initial applications for G8 legacy funding, which were filled out on handmade forms produced by Mr. Clement's constituency office.
The NDP says the initial written transcript of the committee hearing, as well as the audio recording of the hearing, records Mr. Clement as responding “sure” several times to Mr. Angus's request. However, the NDP says Mr. Clement's responses have mysteriously disappeared from the final transcript of the hearing.
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