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Auditor blasts lack of transparency in doling out generous G8 funds

Prime Minister Stephen Harper tours the future grounds of the G8 summit in Huntsville with local Tory MP Tony Clement on June 19, 2008.

Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press/Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press

The Conservatives hid their true intentions from Parliament when they funneled $50-million in discretionary spending in the riding of Treasury Board President Tony Clement and shielded the spending from normal checks and balances.

In her final report to Parliament, Auditor-General Sheila Fraser comes down hard on the so-called G8 Legacy Infrastructure Fund, saying the "government was not being transparent about its purpose" as its obtained approval for the funding.

The controversial program was 10 times more generous than similar initiatives tied to previous summits of world leaders in Alberta and Quebec. While $50-million in federal funds were disbursed in Mr. Clement's riding and surrounding areas, there was not a single civil servant involved in approving the 32 projects. As such, normal rules applying to such federal spending, designed to guarantee transparency and accountability, were not followed.

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Mr. Clement, who at the time was Industry Minister, is now in charge of a new cabinet committee aimed at finding $4-billion in permanent spending cuts to help erase the federal deficit.

Ms. Fraser retired last month, and the report was presented to Parliament Thursday morning by John Wiersema, the interim Auditor-General.

In a statement, he expressed his disapproval at the government's handling of the G8 Legacy Infrastructure Fund, which the opposition has branded to be a pork-barreling scheme.

"I am very concerned that documentation was not available within the federal government to explain how or why these 32 projects were selected," Mr. Wiersema said.

As the government sought approval for the fund in Parliament, it buried the initiative in a larger $83-million item identified as the "Border Infrastructure Fund." As such, when Parliament approved the funding, "the request only indicated that money was to be used to reduce border congestion," the report said.

Mr. Wiersema added: "When government presents a request for funds to Parliament, it should be transparent about the intended use of the money."

Two distinct drafts of the report on the G8 Legacy Infrastructure Fund were leaked during the last election campaign. However, the final report is tamer and less critical than the first version of the audit, which was provided to the Canadian Press by a person affiliated with one of the opposition parties.

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In a separate report, the Auditor-General looked at the overall financial management of the G8 and G20 summits, stating Parliament was ill informed as it approved $1.1-billion in funding. The Auditor-General said that final expenses came in at nearly half of the amount, or $664-million.

"Because of the short time frame to prepare for the Summits, departments had to prepare budgets quickly, often with limited information. As a result, the funding requests significantly overestimated the amounts needed," Mr. Wiersema said.

In total, 14 federal agencies were involved in Summit activities, leaving no single organization in charge of the project.

The biggest spender at the Summit was the RCMP, which charged $314-million for its security services, followed by Public Safety at $158-million, Foreign Affairs at $114-million and the department of National Defence at $29-million.

Overall, security accounted for $510-million of the total projected cost of $664-million.

The Treasury Board responded to the report on the G8 Legacy Fund by stating that it will make its intentions clearer in subsequent requests for funding to Parliament.

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About the Authors
Parliamentary reporter

Daniel Leblanc studied political science at the University of Ottawa and journalism at Carleton University. He became a full-time reporter in 1998, first at the Ottawa Citizen and then in the Ottawa bureau of The Globe and Mail. More

Parliamentary reporter

A member of the Parliamentary Press Gallery since 1999, Bill Curry worked for The Hill Times and the National Post prior to joining The Globe in Feb. 2005. Originally from North Bay, Ont., Bill reports on a wide range of topics on Parliament Hill, with a focus on finance. More

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