Alleged impropriety at the Niagara Parks Commission led to a second straight day of pointed questions for Premier Dalton McGuinty in the Ontario legislature, where the New Democratic Party demanded to know what Mr. McGuinty knew about the allegations, and suggested the Auditor-General, if not the police, should investigate the Crown agency.
"When did the Premier himself first hear about possible financial improprieties at the Niagara Parks Commission?" Peter Kormos, New Democrat MPP for the Niagara-area riding of Welland, asked during question period. "When will the Premier call in the Auditor-General, and maybe even the police, to get to the bottom of these [allegations]"
Mr. McGuinty deferred to Tourism Minister Michael Chan, who this week removed four members of the parks commission's board and replaced them with senior bureaucrats in a bid to contain a growing controversy over executive spending, untendered contracts and alleged financial irregularites at the agency that manages Canada's top tourist attraction. Mr. Chan has also ordered two new internal government audits of agency expenses and procurement.
Mr. Chan said the Liberals "are committed to moving Ontario forward" by strengthening the commission, but he did not address Mr. Kormos's questions about what has happened previously, or his demand for an independent investigation.
The Globe and Mail recently revealed that a senior parks executive spent $400,000 on travel and entertainment in three years on the job. The executive, Joel Noden, has been fired without cause and has defended the expenses as compliant with previous parks policy.
The Globe also reported that two Liberal MPPs, including cabinet minister James Bradley, were told of alleged impropriety as far back as 2005. The government did not directly intervene in the agency's affairs until 2009, after a commissioner had gone public with a complaint to the province's Integrity Commissioner a year earlier.
In the legislature, Mr. Kormos said "this government's handling of the Niagara Parks Commission scandal has been a complete botch-up." He said families in his riding "are disgusted with the stories of sole-source deals and executives treating the Niagara Parks Commission as their personal ATM."