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NDP to ask for special audit at Niagara Parks Commission

Alleged improprieties at the Niagara Parks Commission continue to fuel political finger-pointing in the Ontario Legislature, as the Liberal government faces fresh pressure to call an independent investigation into the Crown agency.

The New Democrats are set to ask Wednesday for a "special audit" by Auditor-General Jim McCarter to get to the bottom of long-standing concerns about how Canada's top tourist attraction has been managed in recent years.

The Liberal government has resisted and instead ordered internal government audits of executive expenses and procurements at the 125-year-old agency. Tourism Minister Michael Chan has also removed four appointees from its board, and two senior executives have left as part of an ongoing overhaul of governance and management.

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The NDP request comes during a second straight week of recriminations in the legislature after a Globe and Mail investigation revealed concerns about executive expenses, untendered contracting and alleged financial irregularities at Niagara Parks. The Globe has reported that complaints were raised with members of all three political parties as far back as 2001, when Conservative Leader Tim Hudak was tourism minister.

On Tuesday evening, a "late show" legislative session was held in which Mr. Chan answered complaints from Conservative MPPs dissatisfied with his replies during Question Period last week. The MPPs had questioned the integrity of Fay Booker, the Niagara Parks chairwoman Mr. Chan appointed this year to clean up the agency.

"The problems at the Niagara Parks Commission will not go away under this cabal," MPP Ted Arnott said of the Liberals. "After more than seven years in office, the rot has set in and the rot is theirs; they can't credibly blame this one on their predecessor."

Mr. Chan responded by accusing the Conservatives of "a misinformation campaign" against Ms. Booker and demanded an apology. He also took aim at Mr. Hudak, who told The Globe he did not remember a letter addressed to him and eight others in 2001, which contained concerns about Joel Noden, a parks executive. Mr. Noden was fired Nov. 9, days before The Globe published details of his $400,000 in travel and entertainment spending from 2006 to 2009.

"Are they afraid that the lack of ability to recollect a letter is only the beginning of what may come out about the credibility of the Leader of the Opposition?" Mr. Chan said. He suggested "there are forces at work that don't want change at the commission," and "those forces are the Conservative Party."

Earlier Tuesday during Question Period, Mr. Arnott asked, "Did Mr. Noden's expenses ever include the meal, flight or alcohol expenses of a former minister, deputy minister or ministry staff?" Asked later to elaborate, Mr. Arnott told The Globe he was "not at liberty" to add to his remarks.

Mr. Chan did not address the question directly. He said a troubling corporate culture at the commission had survived successive governments, and that "Mr. Noden was hired 13 years ago," when the Conservatives were in office.

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