OTTAWA – The New Democrats are calling on Tony Clement to turn himself in to the police after disclosing documents which they say show that he lied and covered up his role in dispensing a $50-million G8 “slush fund” in 2010.
New Democrat MP Charlie Angus issued the call Monday based on new documents in which a senior federal bureaucrat contradicts Clement’s insistence that he was not involved in choosing which projects to spruce up his riding would get funding.
“He told the Canadian people, ‘If anybody could ever prove that I would do that, I’d turn myself over to the cops.’ Well, Tony, what about it?” Angus told a news conference.
“It’s clear that a cover-up happened and the auditor general was misled.”
The Treasury Board president responded via Twitter, calling the latest revelations “another NDP drive-by slime.”
“As usual NDP confusing recommending with choosing,” Clement wrote on the social networking site.
Clement’s spokeswoman, Jenn Gearey, later said that Angus was merely recycling the well-known fact that Clement “recommended projects” to John Baird, the then infrastructure minister who had sole authority to decide which projects would get federal cash.
She pointed out that during testimony before the Commons public accounts committee last November, Clement at one point said he “recommended those projects to the minister of infrastructure; it was his decision to make.”
However, at committee, Clement also insisted he had no role in determining which projects should be funded. He said he simply played a “co-ordinating role,” describing himself as “an interlocutor” between federal and local officials, someone who merely “forwarded” or “transmitted,” without review, his mayors’ wish lists to Baird.
Those assertions appear to be directly contradicted by documents detailing the recollections of a senior civil servant involved in helping the sprawling, Ontario cottage-country riding reap the benefits of hosting the G8 summit. The documents were obtained by the NDP under the Access to Information Act.
Tom Dodds, an official with the northern Ontario economic development agency known as FedNor, says his agency helped Clement’s office prepare letters advising municipalities that most of their original 242 proposals would not get any funding. As industry minister at the time, Clement presided over FedNor.
The unsuccessful applicants were told “their projects would not be forwarded to Minister Baird for his consideration,” says a memo summarizing Dodds’s recollections of his involvement in the legacy fund.
“A list of unsuccessful applicants was provided by the minister’s office to FedNor officials and letters were prepared in accordance with the direction received from the minister’s office.
“Finally, once Minister Clement’s office provided the list of recommended projects to Minister Baird’s office, FedNor officials transferred the catalogue of projects to Infrastructure Canada officials. All 242 project proposals were sent; this included the 32 projects which were recommended by Minister Clement.”
The memo was written by the chief of staff to the deputy minister of Industry, summarizing a discussion she’d had with Dodds about his involvement in the legacy fund. It was written last Nov. 2 — the same day Clement appeared before the Commons committee to explain his role in dispersing the funds.
In an earlier email, dated Jan. 13, 2010, Dodds wrote: “It is my understanding that MINO (Clement’s office) advised Infrastructure Canada which projects should be supported under the G8 Infrastructure and Legacy Fund and their staff prepared contribution agreements for them accordingly.”
Clement’s version of events at committee was starkly different. He vehemently denied opposition accusations that he or any of his officials were involved in selecting the winning 32 projects which received almost $45 million.
“That’s just a myth,” he told the committee. “It never happened that way. We were not involved in selecting these projects.”
Clement said the mayors initially came up with 242 proposed projects worth an estimated $500 million. When he advised them to whittle down their wish lists, he said they came back with 33 projects. Of those, 32 were approved by Baird and one was withdrawn.
Opposition MPs expressed incredulity that the mayors managed to self-select precisely the projects that received funding. But Clement adamantly rejected opposition assertions that he was the “guiding hand” behind the choices.
“It was self-evaluation based on what they knew were the criteria for the fund,” he told the committee.
“The municipalities prioritized the projects. They delivered those prioritized projects to the constituency office, who then in turn, without additional review or alteration, transmitted them ultimately to the Department of Transport and Infrastructure Canada, where the responsible minister would make the decision.”
In September, Clement told reporters it would have been illegal for him to choose which projects were funded.
“If I was the decision-maker, if I had set up a parallel process and created a situation where the auditor general did not know — that’s their (opposition MPs’) accusation — I’d be resigning right now and turning myself in to the local police office,” Clement said.
Baird, who appeared at committee alongside Clement, has backed up the Treasury Board president’s version of events. He’s insisted his department alone determined which projects to fund and, consequently, has fielded all opposition questions in the Commons about the legacy fund while Clement has sat silent.
Angus said Baird, now foreign affairs minister, also needs to be held accountable.
“I think Mr. Baird has been the jovial jester who’s been misleading the Canadian public and covering up for his friend.”
Dodds’ recollections also raise questions as to why Auditor General Sheila Fraser found no paper trail when she tried to determine how projects were selected. She was told no federal departments or agencies, other than Infrastructure Canada, were involved in the decision-making and could, therefore, provide no documentation.
The memo says FedNor compiled documentation on all 242 proposed projects which it passed on to Infrastructure Canada.
Reams of municipal documents, obtained in the past by the NDP through provincial freedom-of-information legislation, have shown Dodds and other FedNor officials attended local meetings with mayors at which the legacy fund was discussed. They’ve also shown that municipal officials were under the same impression as Dodds that Clement was calling the shots and that applications for funding were funnelled through Clement’s constituency office.
“Everybody in Canada knows Tony Clement is busted on this. Nobody believes this guy,” said Angus.
“We keep coming back to it and we keep adding to the picture. What he has done is engaged in the most ornery, old-style, pork-barrel, rum-bottle politics that I think Ottawa has seen in decades. And he thinks he’s going to get away with it.”
The legacy fund, controversial since its inception, was used to pay for gazebos, public washrooms, park and street improvements and other beautification projects in Clement’s riding, many of them nowhere near the Huntsville summit site.
In her final report before retiring, Fraser blasted the government for keeping Parliament in the dark about the fund. She found that the government got Parliament’s authorization for an $83-million border infrastructure fund, without disclosing that $50 million of it was to be used for G8 legacy projects far from any border crossing.
Baird has acknowledged some administrative foul-ups in creation of the fund but insists everything else was above-board.
Opposition MPs maintain the government set up a slush fund for Clement to dispense as he saw fit in a bid to win re-election in 2008. He’d won his riding by a meagre 28 votes in 2006 but sailed to victory two years later, with endorsements from local officials who were already meeting him to discuss funding, although the legacy fund had not yet been officially established.