From the House – John Rafferty MP – It isn’t that sleepy a summer

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John Rafferty MPTHUNDER BAY – Leader’s Ledger – It may be a sleepy summer in some ways, but New Democrat researchers in Ottawa are busy as always and holding the Harper Government to account. Last week our researcher’s uncovered previously unknown documents that show to what extent then Industry Minister Tony Clement went to funnel tax-payer money into his riding. The findings, to say the least, are disturbing from an ethical perspective.

So what exactly did the researchers find about the tactics employed by Minister Clement when it came to the G8-G20 funds? While there was almost no paper trail at the federal level, our researchers were keen enough to file a Freedom of Information request at the provincial level for all paperwork concerning the G8 Legacy Fund in municipalities throughout Clement’s riding. This request would have included information about meetings, including a list of who attended and what the process for applying for funding was. The number of documents and their contents that were returned stunned our researchers.

What we uncovered was that the Minister, knowing that any funding proposals or communications on the subject that went through his Ministerial Office could be investigated by the Ethics Commissioner, funnelled the applications through his Constituency Office instead. The only, and I do mean only, reason he could possibly have had for doing this was to ensure that his decisions would escape scrutiny by Parliament, the Ethics Commissioner, and others with the power to investigate his Ministry.

Taking it back a step, we all know that each Minister of the Cabinet in the Government of Canada is also a Member of Parliament, but those responsibilities are kept legally separate. Ministers are in charge of overseeing large government departments with thousands of employers and billions of dollars of expenditures. They are supposed to be above politics and operate in the public interest, so extra oversight is given to them and their staff by parliamentary committees, the federal Access to Information Act, the Ethics Commissioner, and the RCMP. As such, all expenditures and Ministerial decisions are to be dealt with and communicated through the bureaucratic channels of the Minister’s Office so as to ensure there is proper oversight, to ensure that Canadians tax dollars are being spent properly and not given to friends of the political elite, and to ensure that any such decisions can be properly investigated if need be. At least that is how it is supposed to work.

It seems nothing is quite so simple and ethical when it comes to Conservatives. Tony Clement knew that he would have something to hide, $50 million wasted on gazebos and other novelties in this case, so he hid it away from the scrutiny of those with the power to investigate him. He knew that communications through his Constituency Office are considered private and off limits for Access to Information requests and investigations by the Auditor General because, unlike Ministers, Members’ Parliament are supposed to have little influence over spending decisions made by the bureaucracy and much of our communication involves the sensitive and private information of constituents. He knew by funnelling $50 million of spending through his constituency office that the decisions as to ‘who got what and why’ could not be investigated by Parliamentarians or by others with the power to do so. It was beyond shady.

There will be more to come out on this matter for sure, but what we do we know so far? Minister Tony Clement doled out $50 million of taxpayer money from the G8 Legacy Fund to municipalities in his riding so that they could build gazebos and washrooms hundreds of kilometres away from the G8 meeting site, and he deliberately cloaked the spending decisions in secrecy by funnelling applications through his Constituency Office so he could not be investigated by Parliament, the Ethics Commissioner, and the RCMP. That’s what we know so far, but we must remember that summer is far from over.