Will AG’s G8 spending report be the straw that at least breaks the Harper Conservative lead a little?

Apr 11th, 2011 | By | Category: In Brief

Huntsville Mayor Claude Doughty's wife Kim right gets a hug from US President Barack Obama, June 25, 2010. The President was at the Deerhurst Resort to attend the G8 Summit in Muskoka, Ontario. At left is Canadian Industry Minister Tony Clement and wife Lynne.

[UPDATED APRIL 12]. On January 2, 2006 an article on this site wondered whether the Mounties’ strange announcement of a “criminal investigation into the possibility that Ottawa’s plans for income trusts were leaked” would finally be “the straw that breaks the Liberals’ back?”  And it quite arguably was, more or less — close enough for jazz.

This morning incurable Canadian political junkies awoke to news that “Conservatives gain further ground: poll” and “All eyes on leaders’ debates as Tories cling to double-digit lead.” But another set of headlines raised fresh prospects of another straw that could do the Liberals some good this time — and the New Democrats, and the Greens, and even the hockey fanatics of the Bloc Quebecois. Consider, eg: “Tories misinformed Parliament on G8 fund, may have broken law: auditor general” ; “Tories misled Parliament on G8 spending: Auditor-General” ; “Tories misinformed Parliament on $50M G8 fund: Auditor general” ; “List of projects approved for G8 funding” ; “Auditor general slams G8 projects: Report” ; and “Le gouvernement conservateur a trompé le Parlement selon la vérificatrice.”

As spelled out by Joan Bryden at The Canadian Press: “The Harper government misinformed Parliament to win approval for a $50-million G8 fund that lavished money on dubious projects in a Conservative riding, the auditor general has concluded … And she suggests the process by which the funding was approved may have been illegal … The findings are contained in the draft of a confidential report Sheila Fraser was to have tabled in Parliament on April 5. The report analyzed the $1-billion cost of staging last June’s G8 summit in Ontario cottage country and a subsequent gathering of G20 leaders in downtown Toronto.”

So far only a draft of part of this report has become public. The final version “was put on ice when the Harper government was defeated and is not due to be released until sometime after the May 2 election. However, a Jan. 13 draft of the chapter on the G8 legacy infrastructure fund was obtained by a supporter of an opposition party and shown to The Canadian Press … The draft reveals that a local ‘G8 summit liaison and implementation team’ — Industry Minister Tony Clement, the mayor of Huntsville, 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.”

Late last month  Industry Minister Clement apparently “suggested he had nothing to fear from the eventual release of the auditor general’s report.” This may be true enough. But if it is, you have to wonder, a little at any rate, why the full report has not yet been officially released.

Of course no one will be spending life in jail for anything that the full version of the auditor general’s report may or may not contain. But, at the very least, it does point to some potentially unseemly behaviour — of the sort the Harper Conservatives self-righteously pretended was much beneath them way back in 2006.

The Bigwin, last of the original fleet of steam ferry boats to ply Lake Of Bays, is lowered by crane to the water on her hundredth birthday in 2010. If you can afford a cottage on this beautiful Muskoka waterway, do you really need Industry Minister Clement, compliments of the Canadian taxpayer, to buy you a new band shell and public WC?

The TV leaders’ debates this week may not be all that important in the end. As Tim Harper has reported in the Toronto Star: “There is scant evidence in Canadian history to indicate a mid-campaign debate has ever changed the course of an election.” (Though “scant” is not quite the same as “absolutely none at all”: remember 1984, some will say, as Tim Harper also notes.)

But the thought of Tony Clerment blowing $1 million of hard-earned tax dollars on such frivolities as “Seguin Township beautification” and “Lake of Bays Band Shell and public WC”, just so he’ll get re-elected this coming May 2: that’s the kind of thing there is actually quite a lot of evidence about in Canadian history. And it’s almost never good for governing parties.

UPDATE APRIL 12, 12:10 AM: Not surprisingly, there have been a lot of very quick further developments in this story. See, eg: “The G8 legacy: millions mismanaged, Parliament misled” ; “Tories – and New Democrats – blocked auditor’s G8 report” ;  “Tories under attack over bombshell G8 spending report” ; “Fraser says Tories misused old quote to justify G8/G20 spending” ; “AG refuses to release leaked report into G8 spending” ;  and “Auditor General following letter of the law by not releasing report.” No doubt there will be still more to come!

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  1. Very good report, and hopefully only the start on this issue. I think most Canadians (even partisan Conservatives) have long felt that the whole G8/G20 spending debacle was not an example of wise stewardship by the Harper govt. It’s great to finally learn more of the real details of this mismanagement disaster and the more information we finally have on it the better. Let’s just hope that somehow this will all come out before the election.
    So whoever leaked what we know so far, I say keep up the good work because we certainly can’t expect to find out any of this as long as Stephen Harper has the power to block it.
    Sort of reminds me of the true cost of those planes. Let’s see the documentation on that as well! Wishful thinking you say!

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