Treasury Board President Tony Clement rejected the latest accusations against him related to the G8 legacy fund on Wednesday and said he will soon appear at a parliamentary committee to face his critics.
Clement made a brief statement to reporters after Wednesday morning's Conservative caucus meeting but did not answer any questions, nor did he rise in question period when queries were directed to him by opposition MPs.
His comments to reporters were the first he had made on the NDP's accusation that he interfered in a spending review of G8 expense claims filed by the town of Huntsville in his riding where the meeting was held in June 2010. The NDP released a series of emails on Monday between Clement and Huntsville Mayor Claude Doughty that opposition MPs say show Clement acted inappropriately and was willing to bend the rules.
"With respect to the so-called new revelations, there's actually nothing new in these allegations, there's no new material or there's no new evidence," Clement said. "I've answered questions before a parliamentary committee on this, obviously the auditor general was aware of and has reviewed a number of these issues as well."
Clement, the MP for Parry Sound-Muskoka, said the Conservatives are arranging for him and Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird to appear before the House of Commons public accounts committee. Baird was infrastructure minister at the time, and the $50-million G8 legacy fund fell under his department. Denis Lebel, the current infrastructure minister, will also appear, he said.
Clement said parliamentarians will have the right to ask any additional questions of him at the committee. "We'll be there to answer, I'll be there to answer. I think we're busy arranging that in the days ahead so it will be happening relatively quickly and I look forward to that opportunity," Clement said.
The NDP and Liberals have been trying to get Clement to answer questions about the G8 legacy fund in the House of Commons this week and have been hammering at the issue since Monday. The NDP had fresh fodder, having released the emails that were obtained through Ontario's freedom-of-information law.
Huntsville mayor and minister had friendly relationship
Huntsville received close to $30 million from the federal government through the controversial G8 Legacy Infrastructure Fund to expand a community centre with an Olympic-sized hockey rink and other upgrades. It was supposed to be used as the media centre during the summit of world leaders but media instead worked out of Toronto where the G20 meeting was held following the G8 meeting.
The emails released by the NDP show a very friendly relationship between Clement and Doughty, and in one, the mayor writes Clement saying it was "unacceptable" that payments from Ottawa were being held up because the assistant deputy minister at Infrastructure Canada was reviewing them. Clement responded that he agreed it was unacceptable and he told Doughty he was "working on it."
The NDP says Clement should have told the mayor that spending reviews are appropriate and part of being a transparent government instead of saying he would try and help get the cash flowing faster.
The emails are the latest attempt by the opposition to draw attention to Clement's role in the legacy fund, which they describe as a boondoggle and slush fund that helped him get re-elected.
They say Clement ran the program out of his constituency office and had a direct hand in picking the projects that got cash, rather than the fund being administered by bureaucrats in Ottawa.
The auditor general's spring report on the G8 legacy fund said there was no paper trail in Ottawa departments to show how 32 proposals out of 242 were chosen, and interim auditor general John Wiersema said he found that concerning.
The report also found that the Conservatives redirected $50 million from the Border Infrastructure Fund to pay for the G8 legacy fund and didn't tell Parliament about the move. When MPs voted to approve spending on the border fund, they didn't know millions of dollars from it would be used to pay for projects in Clement's riding.
Clement and Baird responded to the report by saying the government accepted the auditor general's advice that transparency could be improved, but defended the fund and said every penny was well-spent. The opposition has blasted the fund for its size and for how it was used, some of the projects included new public washrooms in parks, gazebos, sidewalk and road upgrades, and new signs in communities far away from Huntsville.
Clement won't answer in question period
Baird has been taking all of the questions on G8 involving Clement in question period this week, and opposition MPs have been blasting Clement for staying his seat while they ask repeated questions of him.
"Most Canadians were profoundly disturbed to learn that the president of the Treasury Board spent $50 million of their hard-earned money the way he did. They are even more disturbed by the fact that he won't get up and explain himself," Liberal MP Marc Garneau said.
Baird responded that he approved the 32 projects, the auditor general made some "helpful comments" and that the government would follow the recommendations to be more transparent in the future.
Prime Minister Stephen Harper also defended his minister, responding in French to a question from Liberal interim leader Bob Rae that "the government has already answered all the questions in the House of Commons," and he then took a shot at the Liberals for their results in the May 2 election.
Rae had earlier expressed his frustration and confusion over Clement's refusal to stand in the House of Commons.
"If he can answer questions in the public accounts committee, why can't he answer questions in the House of Commons? I don't understand it. I don't get it," he said.