OTTAWA – Last week, outgoing Auditor General Sheila Fraser presented her final report to parliament. The final report covered several topics, as is normally the case, but the most awaited chapter in this edition was the chapter that reported her findings on the G8-G20 fiasco last year. As usual, Ms. Fraser did not let us down.
On the G8-G20 spending, Fraser concluded that the main problem was that; “the government did not clearly or transparently identify the nature of the request for funding,” and that her staff “could not conclude on project selection because documentation was not available to show how projects were chosen.” In short, the main problem with the 72 hour $1 billion G8-G20 boondoggle summit was a lack of transparency and accountability. This was not a huge surprise given that we are after all talking about the deficit riddled and hyper-secretive Harper Conservative government.
What was most troubling though from a local perspective was Ms. Fraser’s finding that the Conservatives funneled $83 million from the Border Infrastructure Fund, which was supposed to help alleviate congestion at our border crossings, to the G8 Legacy Fund which was used to build all those beautiful gazebos and sidewalks hundreds of kilometres away from the summit site. That’s right, the Harper Conservatives dumped all that money, which could have helped cut down wait times at our three border crossings in our riding and dozens of others across Canada, into one riding and to fund unrelated “beautification” projects that were nowhere near either our border or the actual summit site.
If you operate a small business in our region, or even tried to cross one of our border crossings during peak tourism season, then you are probably as outraged as I am at this ridiculous waste of our tax dollars. In response to the findings of Ms. Fraser’s audit I asked the government point-blank in Question Period last week if they would apologize to taxpayers in our region who need our wait times reduced, but the government was still in denial. In response to my question about the Auditor General’s findings, Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird rose and essentially said that I was wrong and that no such diversion of the funds occurred. I was unable to ask a follow-up question, but it would have been nice to have asked him whom he thought Canadians should trust – Tony Clement and John Baird, or our Auditor General Sheila Fraser.
If we are to bring to a close to this wasteful and dishonest episode, then we should try to learn from the experience to help us in the future. The first lesson is that this government is simply not fiscally conservative. The Harper Conservatives are addicted to blowing our tax dollars, in this case more than $1 billion in 72 hours for two meetings, on frivolous things that offer little or no return on our investment. Second, always trust the independent Officers of Parliament over the partisans. When they have been found to be in the wrong by our independent Officers of Parliament – the Parliamentary Budget Officer and Auditor General usually – the Conservatives simply enter denial mode and more or less challenge the integrity of those independent officials who have nothing gain from misleading the public. Finally, the Conservatives simply have the wrong priorities and will gladly take money that is meant to help others and use it to help their friends.
When the time comes for a New Democrat government to host the next Canadian G8-G20 summit in 2018-2019 I can assure you that we will have learned from this boondoggle – we’ll respect your tax dollars, keep our books open and transparent, and use your tax dollars to improve your lives instead of those of our friends. Lessons learned.
To read Auditor General’s chapter on the G8-G20 summit first hand, please visit the following website: http://tinyurl.com/G8-G20-Waste