Treasury Board president Tony Clement rejected accusations from the NDP Wednesday that he made "false and misleading statements" to Parliament about his role in the G8 legacy fund and said he stands by his testimony.
New Democrat MPs Charlie Angus and Alexandre Boulerice held a press conference Wednesday morning in Ottawa to talk about emails they obtained through access to information legislation.
They say the documents contradict some of the testimony Clement gave to the House of Commons public accounts committee on Nov. 2.
"Unfortunately, Mr. Clement used the committee as an exercise in spin, obfuscation and misrepresentation of the facts," Angus said at the news conference.
Angus said Clement told the committee that originally, 33 projects were put forward for consideration for funding and one was withdrawn because the municipality decided not to proceed.
"This is simply not true," said Angus.
He said he has an email showing that Clement's office advised the municipality of Gravenhurst that the project not be submitted for consideration. He also says the emails show that Clement's office was involved in sending documents to FedNor, the regional economic development agency, despite a statement from Clement at the committee that his officials were not involved. Clement is the minister for FedNor.
"The most serious misrepresentation, however, is Clement's claim that he had no involvement in whittling down the projects," Angus said. The NDP MP said Clement told the committee that the municipalities themselves whittled down 242 proposals to 33, and that he had no role in that process.
"This is false," Angus said, stating that the documents indicate Clement's office was involved in rejecting projects.
But in question period Wednesday afternoon, Clement rose in the House of Commons for the first time to answer ongoing accusations from the NDP. He said he answered all questions at committee and, "I stand by my responses."
The G8 legacy infrastructure fund, worth $50 million, was set up to fund projects in Clement's Muskoka-Parry Sound riding, where the meeting of world leaders was held in Huntsville, Ont., in June 2010.
The rationale for the program was to upgrade facilities and beautify the area ahead of the international spotlight being cast upon it, and to serve as a thank you to the region for hosting. Other Canadian cities that have hosted G8 meetings have benefited from a legacy fund, of around $5 million.
Clement rejects accusations
The G8 legacy fund in Muskoka funded projects in municipalities throughout Clement's riding, some far from the summit site. The projects included signage, public washrooms in parks, gazebos, sidewalks and streetscaping, and the expansion of a community centre that cost $16.7 million.
The NDP has been on Clement's case for months over his role in the G8 fund, accusing him of interfering inappropriately in it and calling it a slush fund that was meant to help get him re-elected.
Angus and Boulerice have repeatedly asked questions of Clement in question period but they instead have always been answered by Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird, infrastructure minister at the time, who said he made the ultimate approval decisions for the projects that received money from the fund.
Boulerice had asked Clement on Wednesday if he would table the documents the NDP is still seeking and while Clement didn't answer that question, he did say he's answered a total of 75 questions on the G8 legacy fund during two committee appearances.
"I answered all of those questions fully and completely and to the best of my ability. The record is very clear Mr. Speaker that I had no determinative role, I had a recommendation role as a local member of parliament but the decisions were made by the minister of transportation and infrastructure," Clement said.
He also said that documentation under his purview was provided to the auditor general's office. The auditor general conducted an audit that found a lack of a paper trail showing how the 32 projects were chosen and that showed the Conservative government asked Parliament to approve spending for a border infrastructure fund and took $50 million from it for the G8 fund without telling MPs. Baird said that was done for expediency because it would have taken too long to set up the framework for an entirely new fund.
Angus and Boulerice also said Wednesday that the official transcript from the committee meeting, called Hansard, does not reflect what Clement said and that it doesn't match the unofficial transcript, called the Blues.
The MPs say Hansard was changed to remove a response of "sure" from Clement when Angus twice asked him during the committee to table the forms that municipalities in Clement's riding used to apply for funding from the G8 legacy fund.
Angus said Clement made a clear commitment in his responses, and that "now he's trying to change the historic record of Canada to pretend that he hadn't made a promise to pass on those documents."
In the tone of Clement's voice, it's not clear if he was acknowledging Angus's questions with "sure" before he proceeded to answer them or if he was answering "sure" to the actual question.
"Mr. Clement needs to provide those documents to Canadians so that we can find out just how deep he was involved in this slush fund," said Angus.
Parliamentarians, or their staff, have the opportunity to review the unofficial transcript and make any necessary corrections to what they said before it is transcribed into the official transcript. Angus said he has asked for changes when he has mispronounced words but that's far different from omitting a word.
Clement asks Speaker to intervene
Clement fought back against the NDP's accusation that he was involved in the discrepancy between the unofficial and official transcripts of the meeting after question period by raising a point of privilege in the House of Commons.
Clement said he did not request the changes nor did any member of his staff.
"These baseless and outrageous accusations form a serious breach of my privilege which is impeding my work as a member of this House and as a minister of the Crown," Clement said. He asked House of Commons Speaker Andrew Scheer to investigate how and why the changes were made and has made a formal written request to him.
"The suggestions from the opposition regarding any role by me are absolutely false," he said.
The NDP responded that it wants to see the letter sent by Clement to Scheer before taking a position on Clement's counter-accusation.
Clement has consistently rejected all of the accusations related to his role in the G8 fund, though when he appeared at the committee, he said in hindsight he would have done things differently.
He said he encouraged the local mayors to prioritize among themselves which projects they would put forward for consideration for funding. Clement also said to help them out, he accepted applications for funding at his constituency office and then passed them on to Infrastructure Canada, the department in Ottawa that was administering the fund.
Clement testified that it probably would have been better to let Infrastructure Canada officials review all applications.
Baird's office also provided a response to the accusations Wednesday.
"The NDP have not provided any new facts to prove their misleading attacks," Baird's press secretary, Joseph Lavoie, said in an email. "This matter has been thoroughly aired by the [auditor general] and the RCMP."