The Commons: Tony Clement’s bike racks, streetlights and boulevards

About the only thing the G8 legacy fund didn’t pay for was an antique steamboat

by Aaron Wherry

The Scene. By Thomas Mulcair’s reckoning this was a scandal—”Sponsorship scandal 2.0,” he dubbed it, perhaps hopefully.

The Prime Minister moved quickly to correct the NDP deputy. The Auditor General, Mr. Harper explained, had merely “suggested several recommendations to improve the process in the future.”

Mr. Mulcair was unpersuaded. “No accountability, no transparency, no justification of decisions,” he cried, reviewing the charges.

The Prime Minister stuck to his story. “As I said before,” he recounted, “the Auditor General suggested several recommendations to improve the approval process in the future and we will accept its recommendations.”

Mr. Mulcair fumed for a third time—Parliament kept in the dark, funds redirected, a restored steamboat, etc—but Mr. Harper only barely budged. “The Auditor General has suggested changes in the estimates process to improve transparency,” the Prime Minister allowed.

For sure, that is one way of putting it. Less charitably, one might say that Tony Clement stands accused of not only using public funds to spread trinkets around his riding, but of drawing those funds from an account approved by Parliament for the purposes of “border infrastructure” and of constructing a selection process that involved only Mr. Clement and several small town mayors and that left no paper trail.

The sort of thing, in other words, that would’ve driven a younger Stephen Harper and various members of the governing caucus—fun fact: the Conservative side includes not one, but now two former directors of the presumptuously named Canadian Taxpayers Federation—to fits of righteous indignation and principled outrage.

If the government would not express shame now, the NDP’s Charlie Angus moved to impose it upon them. “Mr. Speaker, the Auditor General revealed today that the Treasury Board allowed the former minister of industry to set up a $47 million slush fund for pork-barrel projects in his riding,” he recounted. “Here is how it went down: There was the minister, there was a mayor and there was a hotel manager who dished out the loot. There was no oversight. There was no documentation. There were no questions asked. This is just one step up from cash in a brown paper bag.”

There were groans and hisses from the Conservative benches.

“So,” Mr. Angus finally asked, “is this how the minister will plan to run the Treasury Board?”

Momentarily struck with the inability to stand and account for himself, Tony Clement was compelled to remain seated and let John Baird take this one. Mr. Baird was, understandably, besmirched. ”Mr. Speaker,” he sighed, “so much for the civility that the leader of the opposition promised Canadians.”

“Mr. Speaker,” Mr. Angus shot back, “there is nothing civil about the abuse of taxpayers’ trust.”

So perplexing was the abuse that the New Democrat was now moved to explain it in old timey terms. “They told us that they were requesting money for border infrastructure and they fuddled it off for pork-barrel projects on gazebos and steamboats and everything else the minister could think of,” Mr. Angus proclaimed. “This is the kind of rum-bottle, pork-barrel politics that Canadians are fed up with.”

Mr. Baird was once more disappointed. “Mr. Speaker, my colleague opposite from Timmins—James Bay is making it up as he goes along,” he lamented. “In fact, not one of the 32 projects was a steamship.”

Indeed, we must be precise. We all surely owe Mr. Baird and Mr. Clement that much. So let it be noted here and noted by all that the antique steamboat was, in fact, funded through an entirely different envelope of public money and there is a difference between the funds that were used to restore the SS Bigwin and the funds—the G8 Legacy funds—that were used to build new public washrooms in Burk’s Falls (44km from the summit site), a new gazebo in Seguin (67km from the summit), new streetlights in Kearney (40km from the site), new paving stone boulevards in Parry Sound (100km from the summit) and the new town clock in Sundridge (63km from the site).

Mock the bike racks in South River (72km from the summit) if you must, but let us agree here and now that the Bigwin, that fine sailing ship, should not have its good name tarnished by association.

In the interests of drawing fine distinctions, Bob Rae next turned to one of the larger points here. “Mr. Speaker, to the Prime Minister, he cannot get around the fact that in November 2009, the supplementary estimates tabled in Parliament included a request for approval to spend $83 million for an item entitled: ‘border Infrastructure fund related to investments in infrastructure to reduce border congestion,’ ” the Liberal leader ventured. “The simple fact is, the government used that money for a completely different purpose. Huntsville is 300 miles away from the closest border in Niagara Falls. How does he explain this bait and switch?”

Turns out, the Prime Minister explains it quite easily. “Mr. Speaker, if the leader of the Liberal Party had looked at the border fund he would realize that it is frequently used for projects that are not in border communities,” Mr. Harper said.

In his days of minority government, Mr. Harper might’ve been expected to merely shrug away an accusation of wrongdoing (see his aforementioned exchange with Mr. Mulcair). But is the Prime Minister so relaxed now in the wake of majority victory that he is willing to confess to levels of looseness to which he was not even accused? There were guffaws from the Liberal corner at whatever this was meant to be.

A short while later, Judy Foote stood to ask how the government could justify spending on “fake lakes and gazeboes,” while cutting funds for search and rescue operations in Newfoundland. In response, Fisheries Minister Keith Ashfield would assure the House that no one’s safety will be compromised, but not before first reminding everyone of what happened last month.

“Mr. Speaker,” he said, “we are acting on the strong mandate that we received from Canadians to implement our budget proposals and deficit reduction measures.” He might’ve stuck a period after “Canadians.” And the government side might as well make that the answer to every question for at least the next few years.

Coincidentally, Mr. Harper spent much of the rest of the hour sharing smiles and laughs with members of his frontbench. He seemed to be in a positively delightful mood.

The Stats. The G8 summit, nine questions. Aboriginal affairs, five questions. Libya, four questions. HIV, Canada Post, telecommunications, credit cards, shipbuilding and the environment, two questions each. The RCMP, veterans, fisheries, bilingualism, taxation, equality, seniors and the budget, one question each.

John Baird, seven answers. Stephen Harper, five answers. John Duncan, four answers. Jim Flaherty and Rona Ambrose, three answers each. Chris Alexander, Leona Aglukkaq, Christian Paradis and Peter Kent, two answers each. Rick Dykstra, Vic Toews, Lois Brown, Keith Ashfield, James Moore, Tony Clement, Lisa Raitt and Steven Fletcher, one answer each.

The Commons: Tony Clement’s bike racks, streetlights and boulevards

  1. I’d like some enterprising journalist to look into the involvement of the Deerhurst Lodge in the decision making of these funds.  Interesting that the lodge was put up for sale shortly after the G8. 

    • That is interesting. There was also a media report I recall during the campaign stating that the manager of Deerhurst was a participant in the Mayors’ cash-splitting bee. I’m surprised Tony didn’t take the opportunity today to characterize this festival of apportionment as a new and emerging model process for federal/municipal gov decision-making. 

      And who was the mysterious and unnamed “representative of the Government of Canada” to whom Clement referred to today when talking about the meeting where projects were identified?

  2. “If the leader of the Liberal Party had looked at the border fund he would realize that it is frequently used for projects that are not in border communities.”

    How is this a justification? Is he saying that the fund is open to general abuse and Bob Rae should look into the other projects that have been funded? Or is the prime minister saying it’s fine to mislead the House because it happens all the time?

    • Further to this, perhaps the prime minister can explain how gazebos in Muskoka are helping to:
      Reduce congestion; Enhance infrastructure capacity; Support implementation of the Smart Borders Action Plan; and Enhance safety and security at border crossings.
      http://www.infc.gc.ca/ip-pi/bif-fsif/bif-fsif-eng.html

    • And further to this, how can the PM explain how well over half of the entire border fund being spent on a riding not near the border?

  3. “The sort of thing, in other words, that would’ve driven a younger Stephen Harper and various members of the governing caucus …. to fits of righteous indignation and principled outrage.”

    Spot On!!!   

    Only in Canada would Clement/Harper/Cons be considered conservative because, in actuality,  they sound and behave like communists. I have long felt that God is playing a joke on me.

    “Mr. Clement said that: “Governments are doing their part. Universities are doing their part. Where’s business? When is business going to do its part?”

    http://opinion.financialpost.com/2010/11/29/terence-corcoran-tony-clement-vs-business/

    “…. the aforementioned CD Howe report notes that total compensation per civilian employee in the federal government reached $94, 000 in 2009/2010, nearly double the average of $47,500 in the private economy.”

    http://www.fcpp.org/publication.php/3790?print=yes

    “Detailed analysis of 2006 Census findings on full-time earnings by sector and occupation show that government and public sector employees are paid roughly 8 to 17 per cent more than similarly employed individuals in the private sector ….”

    http://www.cfib-fcei.ca/cfib-documents/rr3077.pdf

     The federal Conservatives have rejected a takeover bid by BHP Billiton to buy Saskatchewan’s PotashCorp ….

    http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/video/potash-deal-no-net-benefit-clement/article1784897/page6/

  4. The well-known Con shell game is in play again.

    The pea, of course, has long since disappeared up someone’s sleeve.

  5. Mr. Wherry is generous to the NDP opposition whose inexperience in holding the government to account in question period was quite evident today. 

    No questions were asked about Baird’s claim that civil servants “recommended” the funding mechanism used to push loot into Tony’s riding, and none were asked about Tony’s odd claim at his earlier newser that he and “another representative of the Government of Canada” attended the meeting with the local mayors where the loot was divvied up. 

    As for Mr. Mulcair’s claim that the G8-20 spend-athon was analogous to the sponsorship scandal, the government is correct in pointing out that nothing could be further from the truth.

    In fact, this scandal — and it is scandal whether or not it is pursued further by media or opposition — is much more akin to the “Billion Dollar Boondoggle” where, as the opposition Tories then fumed, and as subsequent audits showed, government political players sat around and handed out public money inappropriately without officials or paperwork, something the Tories avowed they could not then, and would never, countenance.

    • Not the best analogy really given that the “Billion dollar boondoggle” turned out to be no such thing. All but $10K was clearly documented.

      In this case not one piece of paper exists.

      I really wish people would understand the degree to which this government has thrown accountability out the window.

      We’re back to the 1950s at this stage.

      I have to concur about the questions though. Not terribly insightful.

      • Not to quibble, but I think I recall David Good in his book on the “Billion Dollar Boondoggle” claiming it was $64,000 that lacked documentation.

        Anyway, in terms of the analogy, I agree that the G8 was a much larger scam, but what makes the two scams similar is that the essence of the problem (according to a later audit) was that government Ministers and MPs allocated public money on their own, without any involvement by officials.

        This was subsequently changed and officials were meticulously involved in decisions thereafter, at least until Harper once again cut the officials out of the decision-making loop.

        I agree completely about accountability being a joke under the CPC.

        • Thanks for the clarification, I’ll remember that figure in the future.

          It always seems like we take a step forward toward accountability, and then a mere decade later we take two steps backward.

          I can’t possibly imagine that the cabinet isn’t aware of its own duplicity, and that’s what burns me more than anything. They know and they’re lying about it. They clearly think we’re a bunch of idiots, or worse, they know we can’t do squat about it and are willing to take advantage of that.

          Of course the others aren’t any better really. I watched Layton this election claim the Liberals didn’t act on national daycare, but it was his party that killed the legislation Paul Martin offered.

          These guys are all pieces of crap in my opinion. Used-car Salesmen get more respect from me at this point.

      • “Not the best analogy really given that the “Billion dollar boondoggle” turned out to be no such thing. All but $10K was clearly documented ….. I really wish people would understand the degree to which this government has thrown accountability out the window.”

        This made me laugh very much. 

        As long as government files correct paper work, it can misspend money?

        Do you work for public service, Phil King?

        Problem was not paper work, issue was accountability to tax payers. Cons misspending money now not going to be an issue with taxpayers because pols have been doing it for long time now. 

        Billion Dollar Boondoggle:

        “Questions about acounting practices in the job creation program at Human Resources Development Canada hit the Liberals in the 2000 election year.”

        http://www.cbc.ca/canadavotes2004/politicalcanada/hrdc.html

  6. “This is the kind of rum-bottle, pork-barrel politics that Canadians are fed up with.”

    Sadly…au contraire…at least in Huntsville and Muskoka they’re not. 

    I wonder if Chretien in his secret heart is not quietly chuckling…” Der goes mi boy…pitee heees on da rong teem. I wundr howd dat did appen.?”

    • lol – I could hear him saying it.

  7. requires thought
    even more challenging, requires imagination

    will never gain traction
    destined for the waybacks

    • Nice terse summary.

      Since, as a matter of courtesy, named government ministers and PMO often have some degree of influence over when an AG report might be tabled in the Commons, one wonders how it came to be that this particular damning report was tabled on the opening day of three-day CPC love fest in Ottawa.

      Was a calculation made that victory celebrations and hockey memories at the convention would overtake this sordid irrelevant story, a story to which Canadians of good will ought not pay attention anyway?

      And wouldn’t it help Canadians not pay attention if there was only one QP before the House recesses until next week where the government could be asked about this report?

      And finally, is it not true that the story on the AG report would potentially offer delegates at hospitality suites a light opportunity to shake their heads and banter about the idiocy and irrelevance of Ottawa media, and their failure to report fairly on the governments accomplishments around important events like the G8 Summit, a failure which may have contributed to Canada being unable to successfully secure it’s rotational place on the UN security council. For sure.

      • I don’t think Harper really needs to be that calculating.  I think he’s figured out the masses are too busy keeping up to what the TV tells them is average to consider, let alone discuss, whether it really is possible for $600M in untendered and/or otherwise improperly documented gladhanding can truly be innocent and well-intended.  As long as ignoring it doesn’t make them stick out, that’s exactly what they’ll do.

      • At this point Harper can gloat all he likes. Timing makes no difference anymore.

        He’s unaccountable, unconcerned and giddy with anticipation.

        Buckle up sweetheart.

  8. Said Mr. Angus, “This is the kind of rum-bottle, pork-barrel politics that Canadians are fed up with.”
    Actually, it’s the kind of rum-bottle, pork-barrel politics that Canadians have come to expect, that Canadians will shrug their shoulders about, and that Canadians will forget about altogether by the weekend. Why else would Harper be so happy?

    • I have been saying this for a while, and people attack me for ‘not caring’.

      I just state the facts.

  9. I have to ask a question. If all of this ‘pork barreling’ was done by the Prime Minister, and the CPC, why was it only spent in Tony’s riding? This question occurred to me as I read Aaron’s story, with the km’s put in to make it more of a scandal. If there were huge numbers of people traveling there, from all over the world, was the intend not ‘spit shine’ Canada for those going to it? If not, why wouldn’t the CPC spend this money in many more constituencies, rather than in just one?

    Just asking.

    • Clement needed to bolster his numbers for this next election.  Plus, who knows what other favors he is owed by the PM.  Destroying the long-form census, maybe.

      • Clement already took the majority of votes in 2008.  That made it a safe spot to do the laundry.

        • What Laundry? That doesn’t make sense.

          • It means they were up to no good.

            You don’t need to know how the fire started to smell the smoke.

          • Now that you explained it, it makes a bit of sense, but it is just wrong.

            The AG has went over everything, and has said that there was a lack of transparency, and that there was no paper trail on the vetting of the projects.

            He never said that there was a fire, or smoke, or said that we need to look for dirty laundry.

            While I am not defending what the did, your points are silly.

          • ” that there was no paper trail on the vetting of the projects.”

            Well.  I don’t know about you but $50M in contracts with no way of knowing how or why the contracts were awarded blows enough smoke to make it impossible for me to see anything else.

          • On a related note:

            ‘ “So,” Mr. Angus finally asked, “is this how the minister will plan to run the Treasury Board?” ‘

            No.  Tony’s job is to so totally knacker the flow of health care cash from Ottawa by axing paper pushers it will force a crisis and justify a second tier.  He’ll get away with it too because understanding what he’s up to requires managerial skills and there’s less Geiserics who care about the implications of stuff like that than there are Modster99s who don’t.

          • Can’t reply to your other comments, so I am here.

            The AG was able to see everything. If you can’t, it might be because you never bothered to read it all, or because you are incapable. You choose.

            You state:

            “Tony’s job is to so totally knacker the flow of health care cash from
            Ottawa by axing paper pushers it will force a crisis and justify a
            second tier.”

            Do you believe in fairy tales? Santa Clause? Are you a ‘truther’? Just because you see conspiracy where I don’t does not mean that you care more about our country than I do. And to be blunt, I am quite offended that you suggest that I don’t care about Canada. Stick to facts and you will have a happier live.

          • “The AG was able to see everything”

            If you can legitimately call “no paper trail” seeing everything my hat’s off to you.

          • “no paper trail” on how the projects were vetted doesn’t mean ‘no paper trail’ on where the money went. Big difference. If all the money is accounted for, where is the ‘fire’ that the smoke is supposed to signal? If there was more, the opposition, and Aaron, would be screaming about it.

            It also appears that the IAG is not helping to cover anything up.

          • The Sponsorship Scandal’s accounts payable all added up too.

    • Are you saying it would be okay if it was equitable? Or, because it wasn’t equitable it didn’t happen?

      • Neither,and I don’t know how you can ‘guess’ that by what I wrote. I just want some opinions, because I am trying to figure this out. I am just asking the question. It seems to me that if you are going to do something with the potential to bite you in the but later, you would make sure it was worth it. If it wasn’t to buy votes, then why did they do it. That is all I am asking.

        • Rather than assuming or inferring, I thought I’d ask.

          Simplest: they did it because they knew they could get away with it.

          • Fair enough.

            I agree that is the simplest answer, but it still doesn’t answer my question. What did the CPC gain? Even if they knew they “could get a way with it”, they must also have known that they might have to answer for the actions. It again boils down to: why do it, unless there is some gain? I still don’t see how the CPC party gained anything by this. I can’t see them wanting to waste political capital to defend this.

            Until I know what the CPC gained by their actions, I will have a hard time understanding exactly what went on. Unlike others, I like getting all the facts (or as much as I can) before I form an opinion. I don’t just read the headlines.

            Until someone can tell me otherwise, I will assume that the CPC gained nothing by the actions, and therefore, I will have to assume that they spent the money to ‘spruce up’ the area before the summit. To me, that is a waste, but not a scandal.

          • Your difficulty may be in your seeking a rational explanation.   It seems you want a clear Economics101 based outcome. 

            Look to the history of evasive, rationalizing language, the blaming, the smugness in the psychology of the perpetual victim now triumphant. 

            The’ve been so obsessed with abuses – they’ve internalized the behaviours so completely – they affirm their own identity. How often have we heard the rationalizing that it’s okay because the Liberals did it?

            The payoff is self-affirming identity.

          • Doug, I can’t reply to your comment below, so I am commenting here.

            I would guess that is the difference between you and I. I will wait until I get more facts, and not rely on my ability to psychologically asses the people, on order to assume their intent.

          • We’ve had five years of this behaviour. That should be enough evidence.

  10. The only thing Clement’s riding didn’t get was a literal train that could be used to transport gravy.

  11. And the transformation is complete.

    Harper is now officially Chretien 2.0.

  12. It is little wonder that so many Canadians get turned off by our parliamentary representatives.  It is OUR money that is being shoveled to so many pig sties.  Maybe it is my fault to have expected proper behaviour from fiscal conservatives

  13. Although I voted Conservative, this is outrageous.

    • Please. As if you didn’t expect this would happen.

      The only way that could be true is either you’re wilfully blind, or simply haven’t been paying attention for the last four years.

      • Well, yes. Disgusting Ontario pork barrel, but at least not the grossly criminal Liberal sponsorship scandal. Obviously a flaw  in the juncture between pristine, honest Western Reform and Eastern dry rot. As well, let me tell you about some of the NDP scandals some day.  Unfortunately, to err is human.

  14. being in opposition , continually, of everything, certainly will wear the NDP down, just look at Sheeley Martel’s face. ,, opposing bike racks.. whats next.. ?? JanBC… Id like some enterprising journalist to look into the “massage Parlour” story. so many unanswred yet easily asked questions .. such as was anyone charged that night? etc. This stinks of a cover up.

  15. The Baird/Clements response to getting caught reminds me of the joke about the ” old salt”, who, on his deathbed is worried that he hasn’t been as good as he might have been through his life.  The attending Minister, offering solace, suggests that he concentrate on the positive:  ”think of the 10 commandments and list all of them that you haven’t broken”.  The dying sailor contemplates this suggestion, brightens up and says : “well.. I’ve never made a graven image…”

    I expect that the creator of this joke is a strategist for the Conservative party..

  16. Let’s hope Macleans and the media in general stay on this until someone takes responsibility .. 

    • You mean the way they’ve looked at everything.  Ha Ha Ha!  The only thing the media looks into is the Conservative Party.  How about Elections Canada?  The leadership “race” of 2006.  Have these Lieberals yet paid off their debt?  No, they have not.  They keep getting extensions.  As to the money spent in T. Clements riding, why hasn’t anyone raked the bureaucrats over the coals who were supposed to be doing their job?  Don’t look to the media, they have their own agenda.

  17. Thanks flagging egregious details tho’ has led to surfeit of gagging over this galling getaway with highway robbery by Harper CONservative carpet-bagging bandits! No surprise usually gabby Clement hiding behind Big Bad Bear Baird’s bluster & buffoonery … Who does Baird think he, Clement, Harper & Co. kidding – only themselves maybe. Savvy Canadian voter-citizen-TAXPAYERS sure aren’t fooled,  mighty displeased Harper CONservatives think can get away with atest “contempt of Parliament, breach of trust” revelation really = contempt for ALL Canadian TAXPAYERS. Including Clement’s own constituents — walked out in disgust & “called him out” public meetings mid-Federal Election 2011 campaign when leaked draft A-G’s report first brought flagrant “Tony & John foolery” to public’s, media’s & Opposition Parties’ attention!
    – Mary C. Kelly, Toronto Centre Constituent

  18. Flagging egregious details has led to surfeit of gagging this galling getaway with highway robbery Harper CONservative carpet-bagging bandits! No surprise usually gabby Clement hiding behind Big Bad Baird’s blustery buffoonery. Who think they’re kidding — only selves maybe. Savvy Canadian voter-citizen-TAXPAYERS sure aren’t fooled, mighty displeased Harper’s gang think can get away with latest “contempt of Parliament, breach of trust” revelation = contempt for ALL Canadian TAXPAYERS. Including Clement’s constituents — walked out in disgust & “called him out” public meetings mid-Federal Election 2011 campaign when leaked draft A-G’s report first brought flagrant “Tony & John foolery” public’s, media’s & Opposition Parties’ attention!
    – Mary C. Kelly, Toronto Centre Constituent

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