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Prime Minister Stephen Harper walks with Industry Minister Tony Clement before making an announcement in Huntsville, Ont., on June 19, 2008. (Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press)
Prime Minister Stephen Harper walks with Industry Minister Tony Clement before making an announcement in Huntsville, Ont., on June 19, 2008. (Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press)

Tories misled Parliament on G8 spending: Auditor-General Add to ...

The opposition calls it explosive: a bombshell draft report by the Auditor-General, complete with charges of pork-barrel largesse, dubious government spending and a "misinformed" Parliament.

The Conservatives call it a dud.

Either way, the early draft of Sheila Fraser's forthcoming report, a chapter of which was shown to The Canadian Press, promises to rattle podiums Tuesday when the televised leaders' debates get underway.

Ms. Fraser's confidential Jan. 13 draft says the government misinformed Parliament to win approval for a $50-million G8 fund that lavished money on questionable projects in Industry Minister Tony Clement's riding.

And it suggests the process by which the funding was approved may have been illegal.

Conservative candidate John Baird insisted Monday that the final report differs from the draft - most notably in that it doesn't say the government "misinformed" Parliament.

"The report has changed considerably," said Mr. Baird, who as infrastructure minister would have been privy to subsequent drafts of the report, but not the final version.

Ms. Fraser analyzed the $1-billion cost of last June's G8 summit in Ontario cottage country and subsequent gathering of G20 leaders in downtown Toronto and was to have tabled a final report in Parliament on April 5.

The report was put on ice when Stephen Harper's government was defeated, and now won't be released until sometime after the May 2 election.

The draft says a local "G8 summit liaison and implementation team" - Mr. Clement, the mayor of Huntsville, Ont., and the general manager of Deerhurst Resort, which hosted the summit - chose the 32 projects that received funding. It says there was no apparent regard for the needs of the summit or the conditions laid down by the government.

Among the questionable projects funded were:

» $274,000 on public toilets 20 km from the summit site.

» $100,000 on a gazebo an hour's drive away.

» $1.1-million for sidewalk and tree upgrades 100 km away.

» $194,000 for a park 100 km away.

» $745,000 on downtown improvements for three towns nearly 70 km away.

Mr. Clement, Mr. Baird and Huntsville Mayor Claude Doughty all denied Monday that there was anything untoward about the way funding was doled out.

During meetings of the so-called Local Area Leadership Group (LALG), which also included reeves, native leaders and senior municipal leaders, Mr. Clement "directed that any applications for infrastructure funding be submitted directly to Infrastructure Canada," Mr. Doughty said in a statement.

"Media scrums were routinely held after the LALG meetings to ensure that the greater community was made aware of the adequacy of the preparations for the G8 World Summit."

The merits of any particular application were never discussed, the statement continued.

"The LALG and the mayor of Huntsville had absolutely no authority to arbitrarily approve any G8 infrastructure funding."

News of the leaked report, which emerged the day before the first of the all-important televised leaders' debates, came as a new Canadian Press-Harris Decima poll suggested the Tories were closing in on majority territory.

The latest poll gave the Conservatives the support of 40 per cent of respondents, well ahead of the Liberals at 28 per cent. The NDP were at 15 per cent; the Bloc Quebecois and the Greens trailed at eight per cent each.

Hungry for a game-changer, Mr. Harper's rivals pounced on the news.

It was common knowledge the Conservatives were "spraying money around like drunken sailors in Tony Clement's riding" in the leadup to the G8 meetings, Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff said.

"What we didn't know is that they lied to Parliament," he added. "What we didn't know is that they may have broken the law. This is not me telling you this, this is the auditor general of Canada."

Mr. Ignatieff urged Mr. Harper to agree to release the report immediately, and to explain to Canadians what he called a "scandalous" abuse of public money and the parliamentary process.

"These are shocking revelations," he said. "I don't know how Canadians can have confidence in a government that treats public money in this way."

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