Tony Clement urged mayors in his riding to send G8 Legacy Fund requests directly to his constituency office, and also involved public servants in meetings to decide how to spend the $50-million, new documents show.
The information in the documents contradicts the findings of Auditor General Sheila Fraser, who concluded in a report released in June that federal public servants weren’t involved in the process.
Mr. Clement, the former Industry Minister who is now in charge of enforcing federal spending rules as President of the Treasury Board, holds the riding of Parry Sound-Muskoka, which hosted the 2010 G8 summit. The $50-million G8 Legacy Fund was primarily devoted to improving the look of community downtowns in the area, although in her report, Ms. Fraser expressed concern that when Parliament approved the spending, it was told that the money would be spent on border infrastructure.
Keeping government work separate from constituency – or local MP work – is a basic tenet for cabinet ministers. Mr. Clement’s blurring of those lines goes against long-standing practices that aim to keep non-partisan public servants as the gatekeepers of federal funding requests.
The NDP obtained the documents using Freedom of Information legislation. Those documents, released directly from municipalities, revealed evidence that federal public servants worked directly with Mr. Clement and mayors in his riding to shape the fund.
Minutes of meetings chaired by Mr. Clement with area mayors show the minister introduced public servants in attendance, a process that is at odds with what Ms. Fraser reported in June.
The documents raise new questions as to why the Auditor General’s office was told departments weren’t involved, when in fact they were. The documents – obtained from municipalities in Mr. Clement's riding via Freedom of Information requests by the NDP – also raise new questions as what the government told Auditor General Sheila Fraser as she prepared an audit of the $50-million fund.
In her final report as Auditor General, Ms. Fraser’s June report on the Legacy Fund concluded that “departments were not involved in the application intake or review process and, therefore, could not provide us with documentation showing how projects were selected.”
The new documents led the NDP and the opposition Liberals to call on the Auditor General to re-open the file, but the Auditor General’s office said that is not in the plans.
“We asked for documentation, but we were not provided with any. Deputy ministers signed off on the accuracy of facts in the chapter,” wrote spokesman Ghislain Desjardins. “We have no plans to reopen the file.”
The NDP is accusing the government of a “cover-up” aimed at keeping the Auditor General in the dark.
“The use of a constituency office to funnel money is very disturbing,” said NDP MP Charlie Angus. “It smacks of the creation of a personal, private fiefdom where taxpayers money becomes pocket change for Tony Clement to give out.”
Heather Hume, a spokesperson for Mr. Clement, said there is nothing new in the “unfounded attacks” from the NDP.
“The Auditor General has already fully investigated this spending and all information was made available to the Auditor General,” she said in an email.
Queen’s University Professor C.E.S. (Ned) Franks, an expert on the separation of federal powers, said the Auditor General should re-open the case given that it appears she was given inaccurate information.
Mr. Franks said doling out federal cash from a constituency office is reminiscent of patronage stories from Canada’s earliest days under Prime Minister John A. Macdonald. He noted that if all 308 MPs had $50-million to hand out, it would be a $15-billion program.
“I thought that the control of the public purse was sufficient that this kind of patronage and bribery had been pretty much stamped out,” he said.
Mr. Clement is now President of the Treasury Board, the central agency responsible for ensuring all departments follow detailed federal spending rules known as Treasury Board guidelines.
“That does not give me confidence that the expenditures of the government will be dealt with impartially and fairly across Canada,” Mr. Franks said.
The NDP obtained the new information by bypassing the federal government, using freedom of information laws to seek out documents directly from municipalities. There, via hundreds of pages from Bracebridge and Gravenhurst, a very different picture emerged as to what federal officials knew.
For instance, the documents include minutes of a Feb. 27, 2009, meeting in Huntsville, chaired by Mr. Clement, where the minister explained how G8 legacy funding would work.
In addition to representatives from local communities, the meeting was also attended by four federal public servants from FedNor – a development agency for Northern Ontario led by Mr. Clement – and two officials from Industry Canada, also led at the time by Mr. Clement.
Other meetings were attended by Gérald Cossette, then the G8 summit manager with the federal department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade.
At a news conference in Ottawa, NDP MP Charlie Angus said the documents show the funding process was able to escape the jurisdiction of the Auditor-General because it was all run out of Mr. Clement’s constituency office – which is not supposed to be involved in ministerial, or government, work.
“The use of a constituency office to funnel money is very disturbing,” Mr. Angus said, arguing the documents raise new questions about a process that has already attracted plenty of controversy.
“If you wanted money from Tony, call Tony’s staff. They’d get you the money. We didn’t know that. And what we also didn’t know was that senior bureaucrats who told the Auditor-General that they didn’t know anything about this process, sat in on meetings and helped write the criteria based on the suggestions of the local mayors. We didn’t know any of this and the question is, why didn’t we know this?”
Heather Hume, a spokesperson for Mr. Clement, said there is nothing new in the "unfounded attacks" from the NDP.
" The Auditor General has already fully investigated this spending and all information was made available to the Auditor-General," she said in an email. "Every single project funded has been proudly announced by our government, and can be found on the Department of Infrastructure website. The Auditor-General made recommendations to improve the administrative process. We appreciate these recommendations and will improve the process in the future."
How to spend $50-million
Minutes of the “Local Area Leadership Group,” in which Tony Clement chaired meetings with municipal leaders in his riding of Parry Sound-Muskoka. Discussions about how to spend a $50-million G8 Legacy Fund included input from federal public servants in the room, even though Auditor General Sheila Fraser reported in June that “no public servants were involved in the selection process.”
Nov. 7, 2008
“Minister Clement noted that he is working on establishing a Budget with the Prime Minister's Office ... Minister Clement noted that forms can be forwarded to his Huntsville Constituency Manager, Sondra Read at Clement1@parl.gc.ca.”
Feb. 27, 2009
“Minister Clement introduced Tom Dodds (FedNor Director of International Business). Tom Dodds introduced the FedNor Team ... Mr. Dodds further noted that he is interested in obtaining ideas on the criteria that the Members may have ... Mr. Dodds noted that the process would include the objective to see what projects fit and what other sources of funding are available.”
June, 2011 report of the Auditor General
“Departments were not involved in the application intake or review process and, therefore, could not provide us with documentation showing how projects were selected.”
- Bill Curry