The chief executive officer of Ottawa’s main clean-technology funding agency has resigned amid intense scrutiny of its financial management and human-resources practices.
Leah Lawrence said on Friday she is stepping down as head of Sustainable Development Technology Canada, just two days after defending her leadership at the organization before a House of Commons ethics committee. Ms. Lawrence has held the position since 2015.
“Given recent media reports, House of Commons committee testimony, and the surrounding controversy, it is clear there has been a sustained and malicious campaign to undermine my leadership,” she wrote in her resignation letter to SDTC’s board of directors. “This compromises my future ability to lead the organization and puts me in an untenable situation. And I want to see this organization succeed.”
In early October, a report from an investigation ordered by the federal department in charge of SDTC showed evidence of inappropriate funding and breaches of conflict-of-interest rules. The probe was triggered by allegations made by a whistle-blower group consisting of former and current employees of the organization.
In response, Industry Minister François-Philippe Champagne suspended SDTC’s ability to grant money to clean-tech startups until its board completes a series of corrective management, governance and human-resources measures he imposed.
However, Ms. Lawrence and SDTC’s chair, Annette Verschuren, told the committee last Wednesday that they disagreed with the findings of the investigators, and called the whistle-blowers’ allegations false. The report, conducted by Ottawa accounting firm Raymond Chabot Grant Thornton, “contains numerous errors, and misrepresentations of our policies and procedures,” Ms. Verschuren told the MPs on the committee.
SDTC, a federally funded non-profit, is the country’s largest financial supporter of early-stage environmental technology. It has granted $1.6-billion to the sector since 2001. Clean-tech executives and venture capitalists have warned that an extended freeze on SDTC grants could be detrimental to the many startups that are in the process of lining up financing to advance their projects.
In her resignation letter, Ms. Lawrence wrote that the agency is now more focused on entrepreneurs than it was eight years ago when it was “organized around government bureaucracy.” It is now serving small and medium-sized companies through three funding streams and has cut processing times by more than 50 per cent while improving due diligence, she said.
Her future will involve “continuing my work championing improved governance, corporate transparency and integrity,” she said, without offering specifics.
An SDTC spokesperson was not immediately available for comment.
Last week, the federal Auditor-General announced she is launching her own audit of SDTC.