The Commons: Thomas Mulcair thinks he's found a boondoggle

The money's not missing, it's just not perfectly accounted for

The parliamentary record counts 993 uses of the term “boondoggle” over the last 19 years before today. Here would be two more.

“Mr. Speaker, today’s Auditor General’s report is another scathing indictment of Conservative mismanagement,” Thomas Mulcair reported a few moments after Mr. Poilievre. “Conservatives have actually lost track of, wait for it… $3.1 billion.”

Lest this be confused with a mere $3.1 million, the NDP leader stressed that here was a word that began with a “b.”

“We all remember when the Liberals could not account for $1 billion in spending at HRSDC,” Mr. Mulcair mused. “Conservatives called it a $1 billion boondoggle.”

In fairness to poor Jane Stewart—and perhaps as a certain note of caution now—the billion-dollar boondoggle she came to be forever associated with was not actually worth nearly that much. Possibly it was something like $85,000. By one accounting, the total bill was $3,229. But then the “$3,229 boondoggle” is rather unalliterative.

“Will the Prime Minister hold his Minister of Public Safety accountable for this $3-billion boondoggle?” Mr. Mulcair asked, adopting something of a Preston Manning accent to pronounce this new boondoggle.

The Prime Minister stood here and declared all of this quite inaccurate.

“Mr. Speaker, the premise of that question is completely false,” Mr. Harper asserted.

There were chuckles from the NDP side.

“The Auditor General himself said today this has nothing to do with improper use of government money,” Mr. Harper continued. “On the contrary, it has to do with the categorization and reporting of expenses between departments over the period 2001 to 2009. There is some lack of clarity.”

Now there was outright laughter from the official opposition.

“The Auditor General has made some suggestions on how we can be more clear in our tracking in the future,” Mr. Harper concluded. “We will do that, but unlike the NDP, we remain fully committed to the legislation and to expenditures to protect Canadians from terrorism.”

So it is not that the money is missing, it is only that it is the Treasury Board didn’t quite account for it as it might have.

The Auditor General figures there are “several possible scenarios” here. Possibly the money was not spent. Possibly it was spent on anti-terrorism initiatives and reported as part of ongoing program spending. Or possibly it was spent on other things. And s maybe there is nothing much to worry about except a certain lack of internal documentation collected by the Treasury Board as it pertains to this particular expenditure. Indeed, it is argued by Tony Clement’s office that the money might be tracked by reviewing each year’s public accounts and that it is important to note that the audit was specific to the Treasury Board’s responsibilities. In which case, the money should be hiding somewhere in plain sight. (Maybe even, for once, Tony Clement is being unfairly maligned.)

Awhile after Mr. Mulcair, the Conservatives sent up Brad Butt to raise the matter of the Old Port of Montreal and to suggest that the problems of misspending within that organization were not taken seriously enough by the Liberals. Public Works Minister Rona Ambrose duly stood to champion the good news about the bad news.

“Mr. Speaker, it is true that while the Liberals defended unacceptable spending at this independent crown corporation, we did call in the Auditor General to do a special investigation,” Ms. Ambrose reported. “Today, the Auditor General agreed with us that there were problems with hospitality and travel expenses at the Old Port of Montreal, and reaffirmed that we did the right thing by placing the Old Port of Montreal under new management with Canada Lands. While the Liberals defend waste and unacceptable spending, our government is ensuring that tax dollars will be protected.”

If only someone at the Port had attempted to expense that $3.1 billion in anti-terrorism funds we might now have a better idea of precisely where that money went.