About a week ago, one of my Facebook contacts mentioned that she had learned from a journalist friend that there were some documents that were going to be released during the Canadian election campaign that would change everything. The game-changer was revealed today.
Our fearless Auditor General Sheila Fraser looked into the $1-billion cost of staging last June’s G8 summit in Industry Minister Tony Clement’s riding and the subsequent gathering of G20 leaders in Toronto. Her draft report has now hit the headlines. (Her final report was supposed to be tabled April 5, but in an ‘unrelated incident,’ the Conservatives were defeated and thereby dodged the bullet. Until today.)
Fraser concluded — tentatively –that the Conservative government not only misinformed Parliament but that Clement (and the local mayor) engaged in rank pork-barrelling. A list of the ‘dubious projects’ she refers to include the following:
$274,000 on public toilets 20 km from the summit site.
•$100,000 on a gazebo an hour’s drive away.
•$1.1 million for sidewalk and tree upgrades 100 km away.
•$194,000 for a park 100 km away.
•$745,000 on downtown improvements for three towns nearly 70 km away.
Overall, she says, the government probably acted illegally. A spokesman for Stephen Harper says this was a draft version of the report that was changed later; that the goverment welcomes the release of the full report. Sure they do.
First of all, Fraser is independent. If there is a difference between the final report that was to be tabled and the one that was leaked, it’s probably not that significant. A bombshell like this one doesn’t get put in writing as a mere ‘draft,’ although the report is provided to government departments so that certain facts can be validated. If the final report is favourable to Harper’s government, I expect it will be leaked within minutes. If not, we can reasonably assume it’s mostly the same.
Second, Fraser relied on facts that she and her team had assembled. The Tories can spin them, but they can’t change them. I can’t imagine that she concluded one way (damning the Tories for reckless spending) in a ‘draft ‘report and then completely changed her mind when she prepared her final report. That’s not our Sheila Fraser: ‘the lady’s not for turning,’ as they used to say about Margaret Thatcher.
According to The Star, ‘Fraser’s auditors interviewed senior officials at Infrastructure Canada, Industry Canada, Foreign Affairs, the RCMP and the office responsible for co-ordinating security for the summit.
‘Senior officials were not able to provide us with an explanation as they explained that their input was not sought as part of the process,’ the report says. That proved to be a pattern as Fraser’s team attempted to find out how projects were chosen and what possible support they might have provided to the summit.”
The final report can hardly supply input that wasn’t asked for at the time decisions were made. Nice deke by the Tories, though, given that there isn’t a way to get the full report out without it being tabled in Parliament. Which isn’t sitting. Because of the election.
The debates begin tomorrow night. These findings, however preliminary, will be the morning headlines. Personally, I think Harper just lost the election.
Update: Last fall, the Harper government claimed that Sheila Fraser had praised their G8/G20 summit spending as well managed. I remember reading that quote and being surprised by it, given the media reports of the wild expenses and excesses of the summit spending (which included, you may recall, building a fake lake.) Today, after all the kerfuffle over Fraser’s draft report, CBC has reported that Fraser wrote a scathing letter to the Tories about misquoting her last fall. Because it wasn’t the Tories she had praised, but the Liberals for their previous spending on security matters. (I mean, really, how shameless is that. Honestly.)
Peggy’s regular blog posts on writing and getting published will resume on May 3rd, after the Canadian election.