Inside Politics

UPDATED: Olivia Chow calls on ethics commissioner to investigate appointments to Oshawa Port Authority

NDP MP Olivia Chow is calling on Ethics Commissioner Mary Dawson to look into what she alleges may be too-cosy-for-comfort partisan ties between Finance Minister Jim Flaherty and the current crop of federally appointed directors on the board of the newly created Oshawa Port Authority, as well as the subsequent approval by that same board of a proposal to build an ethanol refinery on the waterfront -- which, she notes, was given "despite the objection of Oshawa City Council and Mayor and the Durham Regional Council." 

(Earlier this month, the city council approved a motion directing Oshawa Mayor John Henry to lodge a similar request with the commissioner, but under the current law, only MPs can do so.) 

In her letter, Chow asks Dawson to investigate whether any of the directors benefited from "preferential treatment" by Transport Minister Denis Lebel, who is responsible for appointing new members, "based on their relationship with [Flaherty] and their donations to the Conservative Party." 

The current chair, Gary Valcour, is the immediate past president of Flaherty's local riding association of Whitby-Oshawa, while another director, Chris Kluczewski, was a member of the executive, and two other directors, Peter Singh and Norm Mackie, have given money to either the party or local Conservative candidates in past years.  

Chow's letter also raises the possibility that similarly special consideration may have been given to the company behind the ethanol plant. 

Former FarmTech Energy Corp. director Timothy O'Connor, yet another former member of the Whitby-Oshawa riding association, also served as campaign manager to Ontario PC MPP Christine Elliott -- who is, of course, married to Flaherty -- during the most recent provincial election, and although he's no longer a director in FarmTech, his brother, Dan O'Connor, remains president and CEO.  

Chow also points out that she has made "repeated attempts" to bring the matter to the transport committee, but has been "thwarted by the Conservative majority," thus rendering her unable to "properly vet the appointees."  

In response to today's submission, Flaherty spokesperson Chisholm Pothier provided the following statement: 

The federal government makes one appointment to the board of the Oshawa Port Authority. The other appointees come from the city and the province, one each, and the port users, four. 

From a list submitted by the users, the federal Transport minister picks the four appointees. 

The federal appointment is appointed by the federal cabinet, upon the recommendation of the Transport minister. 

In any community there will be overlapping relationships between local representatives of government, business and the community. Those relationships do not prevent qualified people from being appointed to government roles. 

All the people appointed to the Oshawa Port Authority are well qualified.

UPDATE: A few hours later, the following statement from Oshawa Port Authority chair Gary Valcour was sent to my attention by FarmTech Energy Corporation communications contact Danna O'Brien.:

 Oshawa Port Authority Process Fair and Democratic

The Board of Directors of the Oshawa Port Authority approved a lease for FarmTech Energy Corporation to build an ethanol facility in the Port of Oshawa on August 9th, in a process that was both fair and democratic and considered a wide range of appropriate factors including the views of the Oshawa City council. Any accusations to the contrary are untrue, unfounded, and irresponsible.

The federal government made one appointment to the board of the Oshawa Port Authority. The other appointees come from the city and the province, one each, and the port users, four. From a list submitted by the users, the federal Transport minister picks the four appointees. The federal appointment is appointed by the federal cabinet, upon the recommendation of the Transport minister. It is the same process by which other Port Authority boards are selected.   

Members of the board who voted to approve FarmTech's lease were appointed to the Oshawa Port Authority on merit, based on their experience in the transportation, farming, legal and business communities. All are well qualified.

As part of a national port system that handles over 460 million tonnes of goods valued at over $160 billion annually, the Oshawa Port Authority has a mandate to ensure the port is fully utilized, and economically viable, generating economic benefits for both the City of Oshawa, the Region and the Country. FarmTech's ethanol facility meets that mandate. It will invest $100 million annually in the city and region through corn purchases, job creation and local taxes. It was for this reason and this reason alone, that the board approved the lease for FarmTech Energy Corporation. This facility will be a tremendous economic driver.

I invite Oshawa City Council to work to attract new industry to Oshawa, rather than working to discourage this level of investment through its unfounded accusations.

I look forward to hosting a public meeting in September to explain the Oshawa Port Authority's approval of the FarmTech ethanol facility. It's a decision that was made in the best interests of the residents of Oshawa and Durham Region, and I stand by the process.

Gary Valcour

Chair, Oshawa Port Authority 



It remains to be seen whether Dawson will pursue any further investigation into the file. 

In the meantime, here's the full text of Chow's request: 


Comments are closed.