OTTAWA - Tony Clement will break his parliamentary silence over the controversial G8 legacy fund — but only when and how he chooses.
The Treasury Board president said Wednesday he's arranged to appear at the House of Commons public accounts committee to answer MPs' questions about how the $50-million fund was doled out in his Parry Sound-Muskoka riding.
"We'll be there to answer, I'll be there to answer," Clement said in a brief statement outside the Conservative party's caucus meeting.
He said his committee appearance will take place "relatively quickly."
Clement's statement came a day after he was mocked in the Commons for his steadfast refusal to answer opposition questions about the fund, used primarily to beautify towns in his riding prior to hosting last year's G8 summit.
He was called a "coward" and "ridiculous" for sitting silently in his seat while Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird fields all questions. Baird was the infrastructure minister at the time of the summit and signed off on funding for 32 projects.
But how much Clement will actually be allowed to say at committee remains to be seen. Baird will also be there, along with other officials involved in doling out the cash.
"Will he hide behind John Baird?" said Liberal Leader Bob Rae.
Later during question period, Clement remained glued to his seat as Baird once again fended off new charges from New Democrat MP Charlie Angus.
Based on embarrassing emails the NDP has obtained through provincial freedom-of-information legislation, Angus said Clement intervened to persuade the town of Gravenhurst to drop expansion of a recreation centre from the list of projects it wanted funded through the G8 legacy fund.
Clement advised the town to apply to the Building Canada Fund instead, which it did. The Gravenhurst project subsequently became the focus of a police investigation into allegations that a kickback scheme ended up defrauding taxpayers of almost $1.8 million.
Angus said the move was designed to give Clement "a much larger pot of goodies" to hand out.
"The Gravenhurst project blew the budget, people were fired, the cops were called in. Does the minister think this is an appropriate way to abuse the public trust?"
Baird responded that the Gravenhurst project was not funded out of the G8 legacy fund and accused Angus of making up facts. Angus later said Baird's non-response demonstrates why Clement, the only one who knew what was going on, needs to answer for himself.
"I find it extraordinary that someone as important as the foreign affairs minister, who's speaking at the United Nations, who's dealing with international crisis in Libya, has to come back and cover up for poor Tony," Angus said.
"Tony, if you're not fit to do the job, what are you doing there?"
Rae said Clement's refusal to be accountable to parliamentarians is symptomatic of a government that is showing "the most unbearable form of arrogance" only six months after finally winning a majority.
"The whole attitude is one of kind of triumphalism. Every answer they give says: 'We've got the mandate to do whatever the heck we want, we're going to do it.'
"They're turning committees into rubber stamps. The agendas that are being set by committees are not taking into account the views of other parties. I mean, this is showing a very dangerous sign of pathology on the part of the Conservative government."
Rae complained the government has cut off debate after only one day on a massive omnibus crime bill, stacked a committee hearing with critics and competitors of the CBC and refused to allow NDP officials to appear at another committee to answer Tory charges of breaking election financing laws.
He said the partisan pettiness has extended even to the traditionally non-partisan parliamentary Canada-Israel friendship committee, where not a single opposition MP has been elected to sit on the executive.
Note to readers: This is a corrected story. An earlier version wrongly referred to Tony Clement as Treasury Board secretary.