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Millions in G8 cash spent on little-used Huntsville research facility Add to ...

When the G8 came to town, Huntsville found a way to kick start its vision for a job-creating research hub at the heart of cottage country. But now that the summit dollars have stopped flowing, the hard part begins.

The Waterloo Summit Centre for the Environment officially opened in January, built using $9.8-million in federal funds, but has yet to see much activity. And town officials are not disclosing what progress they have made in discussions with two or three other universities they hope to lure to the area.

The Muskoka region got 10 times the G8 "legacy" that Kananaskis or Quebec City received for their summits - spending for which the Harper Conservatives were roundly criticized in drafts of a report by Auditor-General Sheila Fraser leaked on Monday.

The University of Waterloo's Faculty of Environment, now the building's main tenant, expects to begin short classes there in the coming months, and to eventually move 3,000 faculty members and students through it each year for research and training. But the new facility will create just one new job, meaning Huntsville must be content with indirect economic benefits for now.

Three years ago, Muskoka's early entreaties to the university to set up shop in the region stalled when Waterloo officials said they could not afford it. Since the federal government built the site, however, the school is enjoying its use for $1 per year, plus an investment of about $500,000 to furnish the building and outfit an ecology lab.

"We would never have been able to afford a building like that," said Mark Seasons, interim dean of Waterloo's Faculty of Environment. "This, for us, is a real pleasure to have it."

Huntsville spent $4-million outfitting the land around the Summit Centre with the necessary infrastructure to build three more buildings of the same size in creating a Forbes Hill Research Campus. But the town has yet to convince other schools to invest in a presence there.

In the meantime the town, which owns and operates the Summit Centre, has begun renting space the facility to community groups, not-for-profit organizations and government agencies to offset maintenance costs, said Kelly Pender, Huntsville's chief administrative officer.

The Muskoka region got 10 times the G8 "legacy" that Kananaskis or Quebec City received for their summits - spending for which the Harper Conservatives were roundly criticized in drafts of a report by Auditor-General Sheila Fraser leaked on Monday.



Competing leaked drafts of an Auditor-General's report into G8 spending lobbed a grenade into the federal election campaign Monday. An initial draft slammed the Conservative government for the way it lavished $50-million in G8 legacy infrastructure on Tony Clement's Parry Sound-Muskoka riding in the lead-up to the summit in June of last year.

The report criticizes the government for a lack of transparency in approving the cash.

"We are concerned by the lack of documentation around the process of selecting projects for funding," a draft of the report read. The report suggested the manner in which the funding was doled out was potentially illegal, though a later draft removed references to the possibility of legally dubious decisions.

With a report from Anna Mehler Paperny

 

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