The Conservatives are contrite. They sent a letter to Auditor-General Sheila Fraser Monday night apologizing - in about 10 different ways - for misquoting her in their dissenting minority report on G8 spending.
"We assure you that it was most definitely not our intention to quote you erroneously or out of context," says the Tory letter, which was signed by the five Conservative MPs on the House government operations committee. "We, and our Conservative colleagues, have the utmost respect for you, your work and your office."
They don't say, however, exactly how it happened that they were cutting and pasting quotes from years earlier to back up a point in their minority report, which was presented to the Commons just before the government fell March 25.
It wasn't until Monday that the error was revealed. And it came in the form of a terse letter from the Auditor-General to the committee chairman, Liberal MP John McKay, asking for the report to be "modified as it is clearly erroneous."
In it she notes the Conservatives used a quotation from an interview she had given about her March, 2004, findings on national security spending after the 9/11 attacks in the United States to bolster their case for the G8 spending.
"All witnesses brought forward testimony demonstrating strong endorsement of the government's unprecedented transparency to summit costs," says the quote used by the Tories - which in fact described the actions of the previous Liberal government.
"We apologize unreservedly," the Conservative MPs note in their letter , adding they will fix the mistake as soon as Parliament reconvenes after the election.
New Democrat Pat Martin, meanwhile, was the one who actually tabled the report in the Commons. The Winnipeg MP was standing in for Mr. McKay.
He said the majority members of the committee have "no opportunity or right to review or amend or comment on the minority report submitted by another party."
"It is simply attached to the back ," he said, referring to the majority report, which was damning after the committee spent weeks studying G8 spending.
"It never occurred to me the minority report would contain this kind of falsehood," Mr. Martin said. "It never occurred to me or us to challenge the veracity of the comments attributed to the Auditor-General. I do remember thinking at the time, 'Hmmm, they've got a pretty strong point here.' Turns out they just made it up."
All of this comes on the heels of a well-timed leak Monday - a day before the much anticipated leaders' English-language debate - of the Auditor-General's report on the $50-million G8 Legacy Infrastructure Fund. In a draft version of the report, Ms. Fraser expresses concern with the way in which the money was spent and allocated.
She has now launched a probe into how the leak occurred.
The Liberals, however, have wasted no time taking advantage of the Tory troubles. A new Youtube ad shows Conservative Leader Stephen Harper in his Calgary Stampede cowboy gear, driving a train along which certain spending is highlighted, such as the $100,000 for a gazebo located one hour's drive from the G8 venue or $1.1-million on sidewalk upgrades. Circus-like music plays in the background.
It ends with "More contempt, more deceit, more waste: Ditch Harper."
Text of Tory MPs' apology to the Auditor-General
April 11, 2011
Dear Ms. Fraser,
We are writing to express our sincere and deep regret over an oversight of which we have just been made aware, regarding the 11th Report of the House of Commons Standing Committee on Government Operations and Estimates, tabled in the House on Friday, March 25, 2011, and the supplementary report filed by Conservative members of the committee.
We assure you that it was most definitely not our intention to quote you erroneously or out of context.
The Office of the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons is engaged and will examine any and all avenues to officially correct the record. As Parliament is currently dissolved, obviously the record cannot be changed in the House, but please accept our assurances that this will be done as soon as Parliament recovenes for the 41st Parliament.
We, and our Conservative colleagues, have the utmost respect for you, your work, and your office.
We apologize unreservedly. We hope to find a mutually acceptable solution in short order.
Chris Warkentin, Jacques Gourde, Ed Holder, Paul Calandra, Ron Cannan