A leaked draft report on G8/G20 summit spending that alleges the Conservative government lavished millions on a prominent cabinet member's riding and "misled" Parliament has put Stephen Harper's campaign on the defensive a day before the first leaders' debate.
But Auditor General Sheila Fraser cautioned Canadians on Monday, saying in a statement that only her final report will represent her audit's findings and conclusions when it is tabled in Parliament.
Fraser said the final report cannot be released until Parliament returns, despite all four parties calling for the document to be made public immediately.
"I strongly caution the public to wait until our final report on the G8 Legacy Infrastructure Fund has been tabled in Parliament and made public," Fraser said. "Sometimes during the process of fact validation, additional information is brought to our attention."
The Canadian Press reported earlier Monday that the Conservative government allegedly misinformed Parliament to win approval for a $50-million G8 fund that spread taxpayers' money on dubious projects in a Conservative riding, sparking parties to call for the release of the report.
A chapter of a Jan. 13 draft report, seen by the news agency, said Fraser suggests the process may have been illegal. The Canadian Press said the draft was obtained by a supporter of an opposition party.
Conservative candidate John Baird, who served as transport minister and later government House leader, told reporters that statements such as "Parliament was misinformed" do not appear in a later draft of the auditor general's report, which he said he had seen. Baird said "it's common" for versions of reports to be changed substantially.
"I told you what was not in the report. I don't have the authority to release subsequent drafts. I haven't seen the final draft," Baird said.
"We are very comfortable to ask for the report to be made public so people can come to their own conclusions and their own judgments. I think that is being open. I think that is being incredibly transparent."
But CBC News has learned that while the reference to misleading of Parliament was removed, the changes in the final report were not substantial.
"I have spoken to someone who has read several versions of this (auditor general's report) right up to the final one, who says there's not really a big substantial change," the CBC's Greg Weston said on Power & Politics with Evan Solomon.
"There may have been that change, that one change, but there’s a lot of other stuff in that report. … There is a lot of damning information in that report."
The QMI news agency later in the day published what it said was a February draft of the report, and as Baird said it did not contain the words "Parliament was misled," but did have as one section title: "The funding request was not made in a transparent manner."
According to The Canadian Press, the Jan. 13 draft reveals that then-Industry Minister Tony Clement, the mayor of Huntsville and the general manager of Deerhurst Resort chose the 32 projects that received funding — with no regard for the needs of the summit or the conditions laid down by the government.
Clement said Monday on Twitter that he was glad Fraser indicated the leaked document was not her final report, which is the version that represents her findings.
Later, Clement told CBC News: "It is pure politics by the opposition. It is acknowledged that this report was illegally leaked to (a) political party. It is no coincidence that this came out the day before the leaders' debate."
Meanwhile, Huntsville Mayor Claude Doughty said during a news conference that there were no private meetings with Clement and Deerhurst, which was sold in January of this year for a reported $26 million to Skyline International Development, which has corporate offices in Toronto.
There were never any "discussion of merits of the G8 application discussed at private meetings between myself and the leadership of Deerhurst and Tony Clement. I had no authority to determine G8 funding," said Doughty.
Fraser's scathing letter to Conservatives
CBC News has learned Fraser wrote a scathing letter on Friday rebuking the Conservatives for recycling an older and unrelated quote by her in a separate parliamentary report by Tory committee members on the costs of the G8/G20 summits in Ontario last summer.
The Conservatives' report, presented to the Commons the morning Parliament was dissolved last month, quotes Fraser giving high marks to the Harper government for prudent spending on the summits.
The tabled report quoted the auditor general as saying: "We found that the processes and controls around that were very good, and that the monies were spent as they were intended to be spent."
But in her letter addressed to members of the Commons committee, which was received by the clerk and members on Monday, Fraser said the quote had nothing to do with the summits, and was taken not from parliamentary evidence, but was a comment she made in 2010 on security spending by a previous Liberal government after the Sept. 11 attacks.
"The comments attributed to me in the [Conservative] report are completely unrelated to G8/G20 spending," Fraser writes in her letter. "I would appreciate it if the report could be modified as it is clearly erroneous."
G8 Infrastructure Fund projects
The $50-million G8 Legacy Infrastructure Fund launched in February 2009 and dedicated to legacy projects in the Parry Sound-Muskoka area. This strategy corresponds with Canada's Economic Action Plan to strengthen Northern Ontario communities.
Projects Announced on June 25, 2009 (figures are for federal contribution only):
- Renovation of Allister Johnston Bridge, Main Street and Town Centre, Kearney $730,000
- Downtown entranceway improvements, Burk's Falls $150,000 Upgrades to 10 kilometres of roadway, Perry $100,000
- Improvements to band shell and new public washrooms, Lake of Bays $274,850
Other select projects previously announced (figures are for federal contribution only):
- Expansion of Huntsville Centennial Centre to create G8 Centre, Huntsville $16.7 million
- Expansion of Summit Management Office, Huntsville $9 million
- Improvements to North Bay Jack Garland International Airport, North Bay $5 million
- Reconstruction of Deerhurst Drive, Huntsville $2.4 million
- Downtown improvements, Gravenhurst $1.2 million
- Gateway feature signage, Port Severn $1 million
- Streetscaping and park improvements, Port Severn $1 million
- Various civic improvements, Sundridge $750,000
- Upgrades to James and Seguin streets, Parry Sound $700,000
- Bala Falls Road upgrades, Muskoka Lakes $400,000
- Upgrades to Highway 11 $300,000
- Tourism signage, Muskoka Lakes $250,000
- Civic improvements, Parry Sound $194,000
- Gateway signage, Bracebridge $150,000
Source: Industry Canada website
'An absolute scandal'
Earlier Monday, Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff called the allegations contained in the report "an absolute scandal" and asked the report to be released immediately.
"We knew that they wasted $1.2 billion on a G8/G20 summit. We knew that they have been spraying money around like drunken sailors in Tony Clement's riding. What we didn't know is that they lied to Parliament. What we didn't know is they may have broken the law," Ignatieff told reporters in Ottawa.
"This is not me telling you this. This is the Auditor General of Canada, Sheila Fraser, a respected public servant."
The Liberal leader said the G8 spending is about a broader issue of trust, adding that Harper now has "no choice" but to release the report immediately.
"He has to release this report today, and he has got to explain to Canadians how he could have so scandalously abused public money, and so scandalously misled Parliament and so scandalously disobeyed the law."
The findings are contained in a draft of a confidential report Fraser was to have tabled in Parliament on April 5, according to The Canadian Press.
The report was shelved when Stephen Harper's minority government was toppled and is not due to be released until after the May 2 election. Despite the government's defeat, the opposition parties — the Liberals, NDP and Bloc Québécois — called last week for the auditor general's report to be released on the original date.
When asked whether the Conservative government leaned on Fraser to change the draft report, Baird laughed and said the auditor general "is not someone that is pushed around."
But shortly after Baird spoke, the Bloc Québécois said the auditor general's office confirmed the final report has been released to the Privy Council Office —the bureaucratic support arm of the Prime Minister's Office — meaning Harper can order it released if he chooses.
"We are prepared to help facilitate the release of the final version of the report in any way necessary," said Nina Chiarelli, acting director of communications for Harper.
Layton slams 'secretive' Harper
NDP Leader Jack Layton said the leaked report bolsters his party's call for a public inquiry on the G8 and G20 summits.
He said there are ongoing questions about human rights violations at the protests in Toronto at the G20 meeting.
On the G8 legacy project funding, Layton said it shows "that the priorities of this government continue to be wrong."
He said the Conservatives put their own political interests and the interests of their "buddies" ahead of the interests of Canadian families and small businesses.
"This is all a part of the culture of secrecy," Layton said in reference to Harper's government.
Layton said the Conservatives have established a pattern of trying to withhold information from the public.
"They don't like to release information about what they do," he said, adding that Harper goes to great lengths to "hide the truth."
"We have a prime minister that is incredibly secretive," Layton told reporters at a news conference in Ottawa.
Layton and Ignatieff both want the full report released before Tuesday night's debate.
Duceppe told reporters Monday he also wants the report released before the leaders' debate on Tuesday.
"We need to know exactly what happened before the debates," Duceppe said.
"It is unacceptable, we want clarity on this. Mr. Harper must show transparency on this."
Baird disputed that report when he met with reporters on Monday in Ottawa. He said the final decisions for which projects received money were made at Infrastructure Canada, which he headed as transport minister in Harper's government.
"Those three individuals didn’t make the final decisions," Baird said. "I did."
The auditor general's report analyzed the $1-billion cost of staging last June's G8 summit in Ontario cottage country and a subsequent gathering of G20 leaders in downtown Toronto.
Past reports released
The demand for Fraser to release her office's report into the G8 summit has incited debate over what government agencies can release reports during election campaigns.
Fraser is an independent officer of Parliament, so her duty is to report directly to the institution. When the election was called, Parliament was dissolved, so there is currently no one to receive the report.
Kevin Page, the parliamentary budget officer, released a report into the cost of the military mission in Afghanistan during the 2008 election campaign.
However, unlike the auditor general, Page is not an independent parliamentary officer. Instead, he is an employee of the Library of Parliament, which means he does not have the same restrictions on when he can release his findings.