11/29/2012 03:12 EST | Updated 01/29/2013 05:12 EST

Canada Lands to oversee Old Port of Montreal after expense scandal

OTTAWA - In the wake of an expense scandal that rocked the board of directors of the Old Port of Montreal last spring, the popular tourism attraction is being placed under new management.

Public Works Minister Rona Ambrose is putting the Old Port of Montreal under the stewardship of the Canada Lands Co., a Crown property management firm, and dismantling the current board.

"We believe it is imperative that Canadians have confidence in how Crown corporations operate and use their hard-earned money," she said in making the announcement.

Parc Downsview Park Inc., another Crown corporation that runs an urban park on the site of an old Toronto air base, is also being moved under the Canada Lands umbrella.

"Consolidating these Crown corporations will strengthen governance, increase efficiency and accountability and will provide them with a more stable financial footing," Ambrose said.

"Simply what's happening here is that the (Old Port) board is going to be removed and the board from the Canada Lands Company will be taking over the management and governance."

Public Works said the amalgamation will streamline operations and reduce administrative overhead by making Canada Lands responsible all of these activities and preparing one corporate plan and annual report.

The Old Port found itself in hot water over a trip its president took to the South Pacific in late 2008 and early 2009.

Last June, the House of Commons ethics committee said a $10,000 expense bill racked up by Claude Benoit during her trip was out of line.

The committee said the costs she submitted were inappropriate and unacceptable, and it called for a broader investigation into spending at the corporation.

She charged $10,000 in expenses related to 12 days of work during a 29-day personal vacation to Australia and New Zealand during which she said she gathered information on behalf of the Old Port.

On her return, she produced a 115-page report heavy on photos, light on content, and which failed to impress the MPs on the committee.

Benoit, who was appointed to the job in 2000, testified before the ethics committee last spring. At one point, she complained that the port was the subject of a smear campaign.

She told the committee she followed all spending rules.

Gerry Weiner, who began his stint as chairman of the Crown corporation's board in 2009, said he and the other directors fully supported Benoit and her "exemplary record."

The Old Port of Montreal is an arm's-length Crown corporation that oversees a 40-hectare piece of land along the St. Lawrence River. Over the last 30 years the Old Port has become a popular tourism destination.

It includes bike paths, an archeological and science-and-technology museum, exhibition spaces and recreation activities, all at the base of the cobblestoned streets of Old Montreal.