03/03/2015 12:26 EST | Updated 05/03/2015 05:59 EDT

Harper Government Sitting On Cash Earmarked For Economic Development: NDP

MONTREAL - Three NDP MPs accused the Harper government on Tuesday of not spending tens of millions of dollars that are earmarked for economic development in outlying regions.

The government is withholding the funds to lower the federal deficit, they told a news conference.

They said $131.6 million — for Quebec alone — is sitting in the coffers of the Economic Development Agency of Canada when it could be used to support projects and create jobs.

The unused sums totalled $57.3 million in 2010-2011, $17.55 million in 2011-2012, $18.1 million in 2012-2013 and $38.6 million in 2013-2014, they added.

The Quebec-based MPs accused the Conservatives of hypocrisy, saying they make funding announcements while knowing full well that part of the money will remain in government coffers.

"They're putting on shows of smoke and mirrors, announcing investments for the regions of Quebec, for the creation of jobs, for the social economy and, at the end of the day, the money is still lying around in Ottawa, while there's a crying need for it — be it in Montreal or the regions," said Alexandre Boulerice.

Francois Lapointe, the NDP's economic development critic, rejected the argument that the Conservatives are practising sound economic management.

"We're not asking for new money,'' he said. ''We're asking for money that's already been approved by the public treasury to help and support small- and medium-sized businesses and the social economy everywhere in Quebec," he said.

Later in the day, the office of Denis Lebel, the minister responsible for the economic development agency in Quebec, said the NDP MPs did not properly analyze the data.

"The money is spent or carried over to subsequent years depending on needs," Lebel said in a statement.

"Funds carried over come mainly from projects that have slowed down and that are spread out over many years."

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