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Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird and Treasury Board President Tony Clement appear before the Commons public accounts committee looking into G8 spending on Nov. 2, 2011. (Sean Kilpatrick/THE CANADIAN PRESS)
Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird and Treasury Board President Tony Clement appear before the Commons public accounts committee looking into G8 spending on Nov. 2, 2011. (Sean Kilpatrick/THE CANADIAN PRESS)

The G8 legacy: Just the smoothest home-reno project ever? Add to ...

As a homeowner, it strikes me as odd that all 32 of the G8 Legacy Infrastructure Fund projects built in Tony Clement's riding came in, according to him, either on or under budget.

In home-renovation terms, that would be extraordinary project management, the kind that would certainly explain why Mr. Clement is now the President of the Treasury Board, overseeing all of Canada's spending.

There were, apparently, no hidden sinkholes stumbled upon when the new sidewalks went in and no discovery that one of the parts for the antique riverboat restoration couldn't be picked up at the local marine shop but instead had to be custom-ordered from Spain. No labour shortages raised hiring costs, I guess, although one might expect that to occur when nearly $50-million worth of construction happens quickly.

Unless I consciously over-budgeted for every home repair, that would never happen to me. And I'm pretty good at handling home repairs. I do some of them myself, and I work well with repair people.

This is mostly because I know which way my joists run: Whenever I have anyone around to mend something, they always listen while I explain the issue, then squint quizzically off into the middle distance as though considering the problem, then say, “Which way do your floor joists run?”

“It's a broken lock,” I could say. “This has nothing to with my joists.” But I don't. “East-west,” I say instead. “And that's a supporting wall.” And after that we're friends.

Still, some jobs end up costing more money. On the other hand, I suppose that if I could bill those overruns to another party, as actually occurs with legacy funding – were I able to say, “I'm in for $2,000, and you, dear House, must come up with the rest” – I, too, could boast of a perfect budgeting track record. I'd be the Minister Tony Clement or Minister John Baird of my block.

On Wednesday, these two were boasting again, this time before the House of Commons committee on public accounts, that all of the G8 Legacy Fund projects came in on time and under budget.

Mr. Clement reiterated that every penny of that $50-million, which was obtained from an $83-million border-security-improvement fund approved by MPs exclusively for improving border security, was indeed spent on beautification and recreation projects in Mr. Clement's riding. (Perhaps the government had credible evidence that Parry Sound-Muskoka was about to separate or something.)

Together, the collective indignation of these MPs could have powered an engine: How dare you accuse them of … well, things no one's accused them of. They keep denying that money was misappropriated, or a gazebo wasn't built – but no one has made any such claims. Rather, what people have asked, repeatedly, was how the G8 Legacy Fund projects came to be selected. And there has been no satisfactory reply.

To hear Mr. Clement explain the process, he simply announced the money was available and encouraged mayors in his riding to submit proposals. They suggested 242 projects (210 too many), so he asked six mayors to pare the list down, and they toddled off and did just that, alone, without any fuss.

I find myself wishing these six mayors ran the world. Clearly the Huntsville area is as harmonious as it is scenic, because this narrowing down to just 33 projects was, Mr. Clement insists, achieved without his interference. He merely offered up his office as a “depository” for plans that were written on a form on which his name appears.

Later, his office sent out letters rejecting all the other projects. But whatever occurred between No. 242 and No. 32 is a mystery on the order of the Franklin expedition: We can all debate it forever, because as Sheila Fraser, then auditor-general, noted and Mr. Clement acknowledges, no minutes of meetings were kept and no records of formal evaluations of the projects exist. There's no paper trail at all, not even a lonely cairn of stone to give us a clue as to what occurred during that wild spending spree in Parry Sound-Muskoka.

Not surprisingly, Mr. Baird agreed that Mr. Clement had nothing to do with which projects went ahead. “I made the decisions, I am responsible and I am accountable,” he said. It was he who undertook the heartbreaking task of disappointing some of the – oh, no, wait a second. He approved 32 out of 33 projects that reached him. One was withdrawn.

It was a process Mr. Clement understatedly confessed this week was “not perfect.”

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