06/22/2011 05:14 EDT | Updated 08/22/2011 05:12 EDT

G8 Legacy Fund Draws Liberal Calls To Prove Value Of Legacy Projects


THE CANADIAN PRESS -- OTTAWA - The Harper government has already been blasted by the auditor general for keeping Parliament in the dark about the $50-million G8 legacy fund.

Now the Liberal party wants the auditor general to determine whether taxpayers got any value for the millions sprayed around cabinet minister Tony Clement's riding.

Liberal MP John McCallum wrote the auditor general Wednesday, asking that a "value for money" audit be done on the 32 infrastructure projects in Parry Sound-Muskoka, which wound up receiving about $45 million from the legacy fund.

The fund was supposed to help support last year's G8 summit, held in Ontario's cottage country, and provide a legacy for the region.

It was spent on gazebos, parks, public toilets and other beautification projects throughout the region. Many of the projects were hours away from the summit site in Huntsville, Ont., and were never seen or used by summit leaders or their entourages.

"A value for money audit would provide Canadians with an accurate picture of how each of the far-flung 32 projects, such as the gazebo in Sundridge, Ontario, and the washrooms in Baysville, Ontario, achieved the intended purpose of supporting the G8 summit ... which in some cases was up to 100 kilometres away," McCallum said in a letter to acting auditor general John Wiersema.

"In my view, it seems obvious that the 32 G8 legacy projects had little, if anything, to do with meeting any of the objectives."

Opposition parties have long maintained the money was a political "slush fund" that Clement was allowed to dispense in his riding as he saw fit.

Earlier this month, the auditor general slammed the process by which the legacy fund was set up and projects selected to receive government largesse.

Wiersema said the government asked Parliament for authorization to spend $83 million to relieve congestion at border crossings. The government did not disclose that $50 million of that money was going to be diverted to a G8 legacy fund, for projects that were hundreds of kilometres from the border.

The auditor general also found there was no paper trail to explain how and why the 32 projects were selected. Wiersema said bureaucrats were shut out of the selection process, that the projects were approved by John Baird, then infrastructure minister, solely on the basis of a recommendation by Clement, then industry minister.

Clement has since been promoted to Treasury Board, where he's in charge of slashing government spending.

Wiersema called the opaque process for creating the legacy fund and selecting the recipients "troubling" and without precedent in his lengthy auditing career. Nevertheless, the audit did not examine the merits of the projects chosen or whether the money was spent wisely.

Wiersema's office said Wednesday it currently has no plans to conduct a value for money audit of the legacy fund.

However, Ghislain Desjardins added: "We update our list (of planned audits) as required. The office pays particular attention to requests for audits from parliamentary committees, members of Parliament."

Desjardins said the final decision on what to audit rests with the auditor general.

In the Commons, Liberal Leader Bob Rae urged the government to support the request for an audit into the cost-effectiveness of the legacy fund.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper did not oblige. He acknowledged there were some "process failings" in the creation of the fund but dismissed suggestion the fund was a waste of taxpayers' money.

"Notwithstanding some of the process problems, this money was spent on 32 public infrastructure projects, all promoted by local municipalities, all the money's accounted for and those projects will serve those communities well into the future," Harper said.

The RCMP confirmed Monday it's looking into allegations that the manner in which the legacy fund was set up amounts to misappropriation of funds. The force is acting on a complaint levelled by former Liberal MP Marlene Jennings and has not yet determined if a formal investigation is warranted.

Jennings was interviewed for more than an hour last week by three Mounties.

That revelation led to fireworks in the Commons on Wednesday, straining the solemn vow of Conservatives and New Democrats to conduct themselves in a more civil and respectful manner.

NDP MP Charlie Angus said the auditor general's report "paints a pretty tawdry picture" of how Clement diverted border infrastructure money to "some pretty dubious, porkbarrel projects." And he lashed out at Clement's refusal to defend his actions, leaving Baird to parry all questions.

"No wonder the cops are investigating him," Angus declared.

His rhetorical flourishes earned a rebuke from Baird, now foreign affairs minister, who accused him of reneging on NDP Leader Jack Layton's vow of more civilized conduct.

"Canadians don't want insults," Baird said, quoting Layton.

Angus shot back: "There's nothing more insulting to the debate of this House than to have a minister who's promoted after a scandal breaks ... and who sits there day after day after day hiding under his desk like mini-me."

Retorted Baird: "I think there can be no greater insult than to break faith with the people who elected you and say one thing before the election and another thing afterward, like this member (Angus) did with the gun registry."

Earlier Wednesday, as he left a Conservative caucus meeting, Clement said he has not yet been contacted by the RCMP.

"There's no investigation as far as I know. I'm not going to participate in (the Liberals') PR stunt."