The Harper government has withheld millions of dollars for crime-prevention programs — the same programs it cited in pre-election events as proof of its tough-on-crime policies.

About $28 million in promised spending for the National Crime Prevention Strategy was allowed to lapse over the last three years, an internal document shows.

And the amount of unspent money has been rising each year, to more than 30 per cent of the 2014-15 budget, or about $12 million returned to the treasury. The lapse level has tripled since 2012-13, when it was 10 per cent.

Francois Guimont, deputy minister, Public Safety

Francois Guimont, deputy minister of Public Safety, told his minister in June he was working to address the recurring problem of unspent crime-prevention money. (Public Safety Canada)

The problem was described as a "pattern of recurring lapse in program spending" in a June 11 briefing note alerting Public Safety Minister Steven Blaney to the unspent funds. CBC News obtained the document under the Access to Information Act.

The National Crime Prevention Strategy, with an annual budget of about $41 million, pays for programs with the provinces to help youth and aboriginal people who are at high risk for committing crimes.

Pre-election announcements

Earlier this year, Conservative ministers made a series of announcements across the country promoting the government's crime-prevention efforts, specifically citing money spent under the National Crime Prevention Strategy.

'The program may be vulnerable to scrutiny.' –Deputy minister Francois Guimont, Public Safety

Justice Minister Peter MacKay, for example, announced a Cape Breton youth-crime prevention program in Sydney, N.S., on June 29. Other ministers made similar announcements in Surrey and Duncan, B.C., Edmonton and Toronto between April and July.

The deputy minister of Public Safety, Francois Guimont, warned Blaney in the briefing note that "should no action be taken the program may be vulnerable to scrutiny from central agencies in the future, including possible reallocation of funding."

A spokesman for Public Safety noted that in 2014-15, the strategy invested in 100 community-based crime prevention programs.

"Funding lapses can be attributed to a number of factors, including the project's implementation timeline, the complexity of the projects, and the timing of a project funding approval," Jean Paul Duval said in an email.

"Public Safety Canada is continuously looking at ways to mitigate these factors with a view of maximizing the National Crime Prevention Strategy funding."

Blaney's office did not respond to a request for comment. Blaney is currently running for re-election in his Quebec riding.

Under fire for previous lapses

The Harper government has come under fire previously for other instances of lapsed spending, including:

  • About $1 billion in lapsed spending over five years at Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development, according to a Privy Council Office accounting on Nov. 28. Aboriginal Affairs later said the money had been rolled over into future years.
  • Foreign Affairs failed to spend almost half of the $129 million budgeted for "strengthening security at missions abroad" in 2013-14, leaving $69 million on the table. Significant sums were lapsed in the two previous years as well.
  • Last fall, The Canadian Press reported that Veterans Affairs Canada returned $1.13 billion to the federal treasury in unspent funds since the Conservatives came to power in 2006.
  • In 2013-14, Employment and Social Development Canada fell short by $97.1 million of its promised spending for 16 major programs, the largest such departmental lapse in any of the five years since the 2008 economic meltdown.

The government-wide level of lapsed funds has been rising sharply since the Conservatives came to power in 2006, approaching 12 per cent of all budgeted money in 2010-11 at the peak.

Kerry-Lynne Findlay

In May, Revenue Minister Kerry-Lynne Findlay announced $3.5 million in gang-prevention funding in Surrey, B.C. She was among several Conservative ministers making pre-election crime-prevention announcements this year. (Maryse Zeidler/CBC)

Officials say the increases were largely the result of delayed or postponed infrastructure spending, which was increased during the 2008-09 global economic crisis.

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