Ontario election 2014: PCs say Wynne hid $317M bailout of MaRS developer
NDP claims Liberals hired consultant to create fake Twitter accounts for transit plan
Ontario Liberal Leader Kathleen Wynne spent Thursday morning fending off attacks and allegations from her two main opponents.
The day began with the Progressive Conservatives releasing government documents they say show the Liberals secretly approved a $317-million bailout of a downtown Toronto real estate development.
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The Liberals gave $71 million to build a second tower at the MaRS research complex near Queen's Park and provided a $234-million loan for the project, but the documents show the registered charity and the real estate developer behind it can't repay the money.
Former Tory MPP Frank Klees says a whistleblower turned over the cabinet documents. Klees and party leader Tim Hudak accused Wynne of approving the bailout behind closed doors to avoid embarrassment during the election campaign.
NDP campaign co-chair Gilles Bisson said in a statement that the NDP has written to the auditor general requesting he look into the incident.
Klees says the Liberals also failed to put the liability on the books in the May 1 budget. The opposition parties refused to support the budget, triggering Wynne to call the June 12 election.
The Tories say the government should take the hit on the books but let MaRS suffer the consequences of bankruptcy from a bad real estate deal.
"I think the fact that this was done in secret, in a cabinet meeting just before the election came, tells me this is another wasteful Liberal scramble and cover up," Hudak said.
Klees says the Liberals learned nothing from their lack of oversight that led to mismanagement and scandals at eHealth Ontario and the Ornge air ambulance service, which is now the subject of a police investigation.
"These documents read like a repeat of the Ornge documents that were sent to me by whistleblowers who could no longer stand the corruption that was going on there."
At a campaign stop in Toronto today, Wynne called the allegations untrue and said the PCs are just trying to divert attention away from allegations they used faulty math in their jobs plan.
Election interrupted negotiations: Wynne
Wynne said the documents refer to negotiations that are underway — but not completed — to purchase the building at the MaRS innovation research centre.
If finalized, she says the agreement would ensure that MaRS could fulfill its mandate to create jobs and support research and innovation.
Wynne called the MaRS deal a "responsible decision" saying it would also allow consolidation of government offices into a government-owned building, so it would not be paying leases on that space.
She said the Ontario government occupies more than 7 million sq. feet of space in more than 100 buildings in Ontario.
"What this agreement would do, if it is finalized, would allow the consolidation of some of those government offices into a building that would be owned by the province and would mean that we would not be paying leases on that space," Wynne said. "Right now, that space is being rented. Infrastructure Ontario is negotiating that deal and would be purchasing that building."
In a press release issued later Thursday, the Liberals said the matter was to be considered at a Treasury Board meeting on May 13, and that the document was a draft document for that meeting. The meeting was put on hold by the election call.
The Liberals also rebutted Klees' comment about the deal's impact on the budget, saying the draft document makes clear the money "will be capitalized on the government’s balance sheet as assets and will not result in an immediate fiscal impact."
The MaRS Discovery District was announced by the Ernie Eves PC government in 2002. It is a non-profit corporation and registered charity that includes private investors, donations and government support. The complex in downtown Toronto is intended to bring entrepreneurs, researches and developers together to create new products, ventures and ideas in technology, health sciences and energy.
$1M for fake Twitter handles, websites
Minutes after the allegations by Klees, the Ontario NDP party accused the Liberals of hiring high-priced consultants to create fake Twitter accounts as part of an "astroturf" campaign designed to bolster support of proposed Liberal road tolls and fees in its transit plan.
Astroturfing is the practice of masking the sponsors of a message to give the appearance it is coming from an independent, grassroots participant.
The NDP alleges the Liberals were attempting to suppress public criticism and manufacture the appearance of grassroots support for their expansion plans for Metrolinx, the regional transit authority for the GTA and Hamilton.
The NDP says it has internal government emails that support its claim that consultants created the Twitter hands and websites as part of a $999,999 contract.
"FH [Fleischmann Hillard] has already secured multiple [Twitter] handles and urls to minimize this risk," reads a document the NDP says is one of the internal emails the party has obtained.
The NDP also continued to accuse the Liberals of running an elaborate kickback scheme several years ago involving cleaning services.
The NDP claims sworn witness testimony in a court case related to the kickbacks shows a contractor, who turned police agent, testified to providing free cleaning services to nearly 200 public officials during that time, including "cabinet ministers."
The NDP is demanding to know the names of all involved.
"In this case, the NDP is perpetuating, again, an allegation that is just not true," Wynne said. "There are official court documents that demonstrate that there was no wrongdoing, that no wrongdoing was found. These court documents are available in the public realm.
"So, the NDP again is trying to distract from the reality that they can't explain why we're in this election."
The investigation dates back to 2010.
Former Sudbury Liberal MPP Rick Bartolucci has denied NDP allegations that he was involved in a kickback scheme. Bartolucci is not seeking reelection.
OPP Sgt. Carolle Dionne said the matter was cleared up long ago.
She said just because Bartolucci's name was listed in police documents does not indicate guilt and she noted he was cleared of any wrongdoing.
Ontario heads to the polls June 12. Advance voting begins Saturday.
with files from Canadian Press