Inside Politics

Government balks at revealing repayment rate for millions in federal loans

Federal regional development offices in Atlantic Canada, Ontario and Quebec are refusing to reveal the repayment rate for more than $200 million in taxpayer-funded loans made to private companies between 2009 and 2011.

Earlier this year, Liberal MP John McCallum filed a written query on the status of hundreds of thousands of dollars in "repayable contributions" under the government's oft-self-touted 'economic action plans' for the years 2009-2010 and 2010-2011: specifically, which businesses had benefited from the funding, how much they got, and how much of it had either been paid back, or written off entirely, as of March 31, 2013.

Last week, the government tabled the response to his question in the House of Commons.

Three federal departments dutifully provided all requested information in full, with one -- Natural Resources -- even including a brief note to explain why just over $50,000 provided to a wind energy company was not expected to be repaid, as the project had subsequently been scrapped.

Agriculture and Agrifood Canada

Repayable funding paid out: $10,800,889
Repaid to date*: $1,281,810
Not expected to be repaid: $0.00

Natural Resources
Repayable funding paid out: $26,366,351.57
Repaid to date: "The repayment period has not yet started."
Not expected to be repaid: $53,889 to Borealis Geopower Inc., as "the project was terminated before any actual project that would generate revenue and/or profit had been achieved."

Western Economic Diversification
Repayable funding paid out: $28,666,594
Repaid to date: $3,616,489
Not expected to be repaid: $270,000

Total funding paid out: $65,833.834.57
Total repaid to date: $4,898,299.00 (7.4 percent)
Total not expected to be repaid: $323,899 (0.5 percent)

*Date specified in question was March 31, 2013

In contrast, however, the three regional development agencies involved in the program declined to provide any details on their respective clients` repayment record to date, citing Section 20 of the Access to Information Act, which restricts the disclosure of some (but not all) information related to third parties.

The Federal Economic Development Agency for Southern Ontario went a step further, refusing to provide a per-company breakdown for nearly $70 million in funding, which, it claimed, needed prior consultation with concerned third parties that was "not possible" within the 45 day time limit:

Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency
Repayable funding paid out: $12,391,680.54
Repaid to date*: $600,000 plus unspecified amounts that, according to the return, were "severed pursuant to Section 20 of the Access to Information Act."
Not expected to be repaid: $0.00

Economic Development Agency of Canada for the Regions of Quebec
Repayable funding paid out: $78,282,041
Repaid/written off to date: "Information related to repaid amounts, or amounts never to be repaid, could be considered as third-party confidential information and be protected after an analysis under the Access to Information Act."

Federal Economic Development Agency for Southern Ontario
Repayable funding paid out: $140,730.815, of which the recipients of $76,561,911.62 are listed, but the remaining $64,168,903.91 have not been disclosed, as "the requested information may not be released pursuant to Section 20 of the Access to Information Act without prior consultation with third parties that are concerned," which the "time limitation" did not allow.
Repaid to date: $14,637,836.31, which includes unspecified amounts from unlisted recipients protected under the Section 20 exemption.
Not expected to be repaid: Not given

Grand totals not calculated due to inadequate data

*Date specified in question was March 31, 2013

So, why the apparent inter-institutional difference of opinion on what can and can't be disclosed under the Access to Information Act? That, alas, remains unclear -- and somewhat inexplicable, given that the response was coordinated by Privy Council Office, which makes no reference to any potential privacy issues.

In fact, it's not even clear that the government should be using access to info exemptions to determine what information it can or can't release in response to an Order Paper question, as Parliament is, of course, exempt from the law in question.

In any case, here's the relevant extract from the full response, which included responses from departments with no such loans to report:

Response to Q1289 (repayable loans) by kady23

Tags: access to information, blackberry jungle, economic action! plan, order paper question watch

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