OTTAWA - Tony Clement's fitness to hold the federal government's purse strings is under fire after embarrassing emails revealed his micro-management of a controversial $50 million G8 legacy fund in his Ontario riding.
Emails obtained by the NDP show Clement personally intervened to ensure a bureaucratic review of spending wouldn't delay federal cheques for so-called legacy infrastructure projects.
And they showed Clement was determined that police concerns would not impede funding for a deluxe recreation centre — which was to have been an international media centre for last year's G8 summit but was never used by journalists covering the summit.
"The emails paint a disturbing picture of a minister who seems willing to bend the rules and ignore basic standards of accountability," New Democrat MP Charlie Angus said Monday.
The emails also suggest Clement had a strong ally in Prime Minister Stephen Harper, to whom he repeatedly referred.
Clement was health minister at the time but Harper has since promoted him to president of the Treasury Board, where he's in charge of reining in government spending.
With Clement now in charge of the treasury, Angus said what happened in Parry Sound-Muskoka riding could happen in any federal department.
Clement's promotion "raises the question of whether or not there's a black hole of accountability at the centre of the Harper government."
Clement has been on the hotseat since April, when a leaked draft of an auditor general's report slammed the government for misinforming Parliament when it created a $50 million G8 legacy fund for the minister's Ontario cottage country riding.
The government diverted the money from a fund meant to relieve congestion at border crossings, a fact the government did not mention when it sought parliamentary approval for the border fund.
Former Liberal MP Marlene Jennings asked the RCMP last spring to investigate whether the government broke the law by misleading Parliament. The force notified Jennings last month that it was continuing to review the matter and she said Monday she hasn't heard anything further.
Angus said he'll forward to the RCMP the emails and other municipal documents the NDP has uncovered through provincial freedom of information legislation. It will also attempt to have the matter probed by the Commons ethics committee.
The emails show Clement was determined to help Huntsville win funding for a $21-million addition to a recreation centre which was ostensibly to be used as a media centre — over the objections of the police.
When the Ontario Provincial Police publicly suggested Huntsville would not get the media centre, Clement reassured Doughty: "Bullcrap. That's the RCMP agenda, not ours ... Don't talk to media until we talk and get our lines converged."
Doughty later wrote Clement about his efforts to head off a negative local story about the objections of Julian Fantino, then OPP head and now one of Clement's cabinet colleagues.
Clement responded: "I appreciate your effort. We're in this together. The good news: PMO's fury at the OPP is only increasing. We'll get through this together."
Angus questioned why Harper would be infuriated by police concerns that the hockey arena would not be secure. He said it suggests "they all knew" security didn't matter because the arena would never actually be used by the media.
The arena was eventually funded, with Clement and Doughty emailing back and forth to ensure they'd be speaking from the same script.
"DON'T send the press release yet, as I need approval to signify the money is there," Clement wrote Doughty on the day of the 2009 budget. "How can I put this? It is in the budget but it is not announced."
In June 2010, Doughty was informed that federal cheques to the municipality for the arena would be delayed six to eight weeks while a senior bureaucrat reviewed all claims. He angrily wrote Clement: "This is totally unacceptable. I'm sure you agree."
Clement wrote back: "I agree. I'm working on it."
In the Commons on Monday, the NDP repeatedly raised the emails to question both Clement's and Harper's involvement in the distribution of G8 largesse. Neither Clement nor Harper were in the chamber.
Clement has almost never responded to questions in the Commons about the legacy fund, allowing Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird to carry the ball. Baird, as infrastructure minister, is the one who gave final funding approval to 32 projects, many of them involving beautification of towns hundreds of kilometres from Huntsville.
On Monday, it was Baird's parliamentary secretary, Deepak Obhrai who fielded all questions. Each time, he repeated the government's mantra: "The facts have not changed. This issue has been thoroughly aired. The auditor general had all the government information. There is nothing more to add."
Liberal Leader Bob Rae called the response "a joke" and symptomatic of the government's contempt for Parliament and accountability.
"You're getting answers of a completely robotic nature from the parliamentary secretary who's not in a position to answer ... He wasn't there. He wasn't involved."
The auditor general's report concluded that federal bureaucrats were shut out of the process for deciding which projects should receive funding. However, previous documents obtained by the NDP have shown that numerous officials were involved in meetings with local officials.
Both the NDP and Liberals repeated calls Monday for the auditor general to re-open the file but a spokesman for the watchdog said that's not going to happen.