NDP urges probe of Raitt's expenses when she led Toronto Port Authority
Transport Minister John Baird faced allegations that he appointed additional members to the Toronto Port Authority to "cover up" claims of mismanagement against cabinet colleague Lisa Raitt.
The NDP called on the auditor general to examine some $80,000 in travel and hospitality expenses that Raitt, now the natural resources minister, accumulated in two years while she was chief executive of the port authority.
New Democrat Olivia Chow also wants Baird's appointment of two board members last December scrutinized by the auditor general.
Four of the nine port authority directors requested an examination into Raitt's expenses and other management practices, Chow said.
Chow said that instead of trying to sort out the allegations, Baird changed the agency's constitution the day after Parliament was prorogued in December 2008 to add two new board members.
Port authority chairman Mark McQueen, in a letter to Chow, dismissed the allegations of mismanagement as an effort by a disgruntled minority to smear the reputation of members who support the Toronto City Centre Airport on Toronto Island.
"Their smear campaign appears to have become only more outlandish," McQueen wrote in the letter released Monday.
Chow called the change in the board's constitution undemocratic and said it suggests the Tories have something to hide.
"We know that Mr. Baird pays close attention to the Toronto Port Authority," Chow said in a news release.
"In order to cover up alleged management violations of former CEO Lisa Raitt, he changed the constitution of the board from seven to nine members. That is why I appeal to the auditor general to conduct an audit of the Toronto Port Authority."
At a news conference, Chow alleged that Baird changed the constitution of the authority to "get his way."
"Instead of seven members of the port authority, he made it to be nine members, and, of course, he wanted to make sure that he put his own people in."
A spokesman for Baird referred questions to McQueen but said the agency was due for a special review, conducted every five years, to be carried out by a qualified, independent auditor.
"This special examination offers an ideal mechanism for the board to examine, in detail, many of its practices and protocols related to financial and management control, information systems and management practices," Baird spokesman Chris Day said in an email.
"The report will be reviewed by both the minister of transport and the board upon its completion to ensure that all appropriate protocols are in place and a summary of the report will be made public."
Raitt was not immediately available for comment.
The island airport is a point of contention as many residents oppose its expansion.
The Toronto Port Authority owns and operates the airport, two marine terminals and a marina.
Chow's comments come just days after Raitt offered to resign after sensitive government documents were left at CTV's Ottawa offices for over a week.
Prime Minister Harper rejected the resignation offer but Raitt did accept the resignation of the aide who left the documents behind.
Raitt was also under fire for making disparaging remarks Health Minister Leona Aglukkaq in a tape recording that was part of court fight in Halifax on Monday evening.
Some members question practices
The port authority board members questioned the practices of some senior management and board members and allege expense payments were made without board knowledge.
Management expenses include $50,000 spent on hospitality and meals at a local steak house — with one internal management lunch alone costing about $1,000.
the hospitality expenses were approved by the board as a line item in the annual budget, McQueen said in his letter, and approvals for such expenses now must go through a supervisor.
Chow said Raitt also ignored standing policy by paying $65,000 to a law firm retained by a few board members who then held on to the legal advice exclusively.
McQueen called the accusation "without foundation."
Raitt stepped down from the authority in 2008 to run in the last federal election.
She had been with the agency since 1999 and its CEO since 2002.