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NDP targets Clement with fresh G8 accusations

01/23/2012 12:46 EST | Updated 03/24/2012 05:12 EDT

New Democrat MPs Alexandre Boulerice and Charlie Angus said Monday they have new evidence that shows Treasury Board President Tony Clement misled Canadians over his role in the G8 legacy fund.

The NDP has been collecting documents obtained through freedom-of-information legislation at the municipal and federal levels for months, and on Monday, the MPs released new ones that they said contradict what Clement told a House of Commons committee last fall.

A memo written by the chief of staff of the northern Ontario economic development agency known as FedNor to the deputy minister of Infrastructure Canada, which administered the $50-million fund, it says that Clement's office provided the list of projects recommended for funding to Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird's office. He was the infrastructure minister at the time.

"All 242 project proposals were sent, this included the 32 projects which were recommended by Minister Clement," states a line from the memo written by Tom Dodds.

The memo summarizes Dodds's recollections. Clement was industry minister during the G8 and is also in charge of FedNor.

In the memo, dated Nov.2, 2011, Dodds said FedNor was asked to be part of evaluating project proposals but that its role was limited to cataloguing and classifying project proposals. He said the only projects catalogued were the ones sent to FedNor by Clement's office.

Nov. 2 is the same day Clement appeared at a Commons committee to talk about the G8 fund.

Dodds also said FedNor helped Clement's office prepare rejection letters and that the list of unsuccessful applicants was provided by Clement's office and "letters were prepared in accordance with the direction received from the minister's office."

In an earlier email that was obtained by the NDP, Dodds said it was his understanding that Clement's office advised Infrastructure Canada "which projects should be supported" under the G8 fund.

Angus and Boulerice have repeatedly accused Clement of having a direct hand in picking the successful projects, which included streetscaping, public washrooms, an upgraded community centre and improved parks in the Muskoka region north of Toronto where the meeting was held in the summer of 2010.

"This directly contradicts the testimony he gave at committee, it directly contradicts what he told the Canadian people," Angus said at a news conference.

Clement has said that local mayors were the ones who whittled down a list of proposed projects and that he only facilitated the application process through his riding office by passing on the list of projects to Baird, who had the final say.

In September, Clement told reporters it would have been illegal for him to choose which projects were funded.

"If I was the decision-maker, if I had set up a parallel process and created a situation where the auditor general did not know — that's their [opposition MPs'] accusation — I'd be resigning right now and turning myself in to the local police office," Clement said.

"I think Tony Clement should be as good as his word," Angus said Monday in recounting Clement's comments."He told the Canadian people, 'If anybody could ever prove that I would do that, I'd turn myself over to the cops.' Well, Tony, what about it?"

The NDP says the $50-million fund was a slush fund and that Clement directly interfered in the project selection instead of bureaucrats evaluating proposals and recommending some for funding.

"It's clear from what we have now that Mr.Clement's testimony to committee, he misled the Canadian people. There are 242 projects that were put in his office that he personally chose, that he then decided which ones were going to move forward," said Angus.

The NDP MPs said Clement and Baird are both involved in a coverup and that documents were hidden from the auditor general's office when it conducted an audit.

The audit, released in June 2011, found there was no paper trail to show how the 32 projects were chosen out of the 242 that were initially proposed. Public servants were largely left out of the process, contrary to normal practice, the audit found.

It also revealed that the money for the G8 legacy fund was taken from a border infrastructure fund and that MPs didn't know they were approving $50 million for the infrastructure projects when they approved spending for the border fund.

Clement calls NDP accusations 'drive-by slime'

Clement responded on Twitter to the accusations made Monday. "As usual NDP confusing recommending with choosing. Another NDP drive-by slime," he wrote.

His office also provided a statement saying that nothing new was revealed on Monday.

"Charlie Angus simply reconfirmed today facts that are already well known and well documented. Minister Clement recommended projects to Minister Baird and Minister Baird had the authority to approve funding for these projects. As Minister Clement has said, they are confusing recommending with choosing. This is an embarrassing attempt by the NDP to keep a non-story alive," Jennifer Geary said in an emailed statement.

Liberal Deputy Leader Ralph Goodale said on Power & Politics with host Evan Solomon that the explanation amounts to "a distinction without a difference."

"Obviously there was a scheme going on here," he said. The projects never went through the proper channels for approval, said Goodale.

Pierre Poilievre, parliamentary secretary to the transport and infrastructure minister, said on the program that Clement has always said that he recommended the 32 projects to Baird and then it was up to Baird to approve them.

Poilievre said it is "standard practice" for the community leaders, including a local MP, to have input when money is being offered up for infrastructure projects in their area.

"For a member of Parliament not to provide recommendations on projects funded in his community would be an act of political malpractice. He was doing his job," he said.

Poilievre said it was "perfectly legitimate" for the community leaders in Muskoka to look at potential projects and provide their advice to Clement and for Clement to provide the recommendations.

Angus and Goodale disagreed, saying that's not the way it's done in any other funding program in any other department.

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