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Ex-Niagara-Parks chair calls new audits 'a sham'

Former chairman of the Niagara Parks Commission, Jim Williams

The previous chairman of the Niagara Parks Commission, during whose tenure an executive spent $400,000 on travel and meals in three years, wants the Ontario government to make public the results of past investigations that "exonerate" the agency.

In a letter to Tourism Minister Michael Chan, Jim Williams said controversy at Niagara Parks, which surfaced for a second week in Question Period on Monday, is based on "false allegations which are being trumped up by the media and a few ill informed private citizens."

Mr. Williams, who chaired the commission from 2004 to 2009, was referring to an ongoing Globe and Mail investigation into executive expenses, contracting and alleged financial improprieties as far back as 2001, when Conservative Leader Tim Hudak was tourism minister.

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The revelations prompted major changes at the agency that manages Canada's top tourist attraction. In recent weeks, two senior executives have left, four commissioners have been removed and Mr. Chan has ordered audits of employee expenses and procurements for the past three years.

Mr. Williams called the new audits "a sham," since previous probes not only cleared him and the commission of wrongdoing "but also identified some of the existing procedures as 'best practices' for government agencies."

He called on Mr. Chan to release those reports "so that these false allegations can be responded to properly and satisfy the public that proper fiduciary controls and management were in place."

In the legislature, however, the New Democrats have been pushing the Liberal government to have the Auditor-General investigate to ensure a thorough and independent review.

"Lavish spending, loosey-goosey financial controls, questionable links with contractors: If ever a situation cried out for the Auditor-General, this is it," NDP Leader Andrea Horwath said during Question Period, adding that her party will ask the public accounts committee on Wednesday to request such a probe.

Mr. Chan replied there is a "long-standing corporate culture that needs to be changed" at Niagara Parks, but said the Liberals, unlike previous governments, are acting on it. He cited Globe reports of a past agency boss who found serious problems between 1995 to 1998.

"In 1995, the NDP was in government; in 1998, the PCs were in government; in 2001, the leader of the Opposition was tourism minister," he said. "Why didn't those parties do anything about the problem then?"

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