Clement discussed G8 funds during 2008 election

Documents obtained by the NDP show the minister was meeting with local municipal leaders to plan G8 legacy fund spending even during the 2008 federal election campaign.

Meetings with municipal leaders to identify legacy projects carried on during campaign

Money from a $50-million G8 legacy fund was used for a number of projects in former industry minister Tony Clement's Muskoka riding. (Adrian Wyld/Canadian Press)

The NDP is accusing federal Conservative cabinet minister Tony Clement of using a controversial, $50-million G8 legacy fund to buy re-election, prompting a heated denial from the government.

Municipal documents obtained by the New Democrats show Clement met with local mayors and councillors in the midst of the 2008 election campaign. They discussed how to identify projects that could be eligible for the legacy funding.

Twelve days after that meeting, a local news outlet reported that Clement had posted video endorsements from "local townspeople, mayors and council members" on his campaign website.

"It gave him a major advantage over the other candidates," New Democrat MP Charlie Angus said in an interview Thursday.

"I think the question has to be asked: Was this a $50 million price of an election?"

Clement, who had barely won his Parry Sound-Muskoka riding by a margin of only 28 votes in 2006, easily won re-election two years later with a whopping margin of almost 11,000 votes.

However, a spokesperson for the minister said Clement -- as the minister responsible for northern Ontario's regional development agency at the time -- had a duty to be involved in legacy fund deliberations, including during the election.

"You will note that during the writ period ministers of the Crown retain their said duties and are required to continue to carry those duties out," Heather Hume said in an email.

Hume added the meeting was scheduled several months before the election was called. She noted that the legacy fund did not actually exist at that point and said no funding decisions were made by local officials at that meeting, or any other subsequent meetings.

"The local committee was a non-decision making body ... All decisions were made by the minister of infrastructure and his officials."

Hours after media reports about the New Democrat allegations were posted online, Hume emailed a second response that included a blistering attack on Angus.

"That Mr. Angus and the NDP would stoop to this kind of baseless muckraking is, honestly, a sad commentary on the level of discourse he and the NDP want to engage in," Hume wrote in her follow-up email.

"Canadians rejected this kind of politics in the last election and they expect better."

Other Conservative candidates in Ontario dramatically increased their vote counts in both the 2008 election and last May's vote she noted.

"Mr. Angus and the NDP need to learn that, as Official Opposition, they need to stop acting like a fringe party."

Clement's Liberal opponent in the 2008 election, Jamie McGarvey, says the endorsements did not lead to his defeat, according to the website iPolitics.ca. McGarvey told iPolitics he blamed his loss by 10,000 votes on a gaffe-ridden interview by Liberal leader Stephane Dion late in the campaign.

The fund was supposed to help support the G8 summit, held in Huntsville in June 2010, and to provide a legacy for the region. It was spent on 32 projects throughout the riding, including gazebos, public toilets and other municipal beautification initiatives that were often hours away from the summit site and never seen or used by summit leaders and their entourages.

The auditor general has blasted the Harper government for keeping Parliament in the dark about the legacy fund. The money was taken from another fund that Parliament had approved for relieving congestion at border crossings.

The auditor general has also criticized the government for shutting bureaucrats out of the process and for maintaining no paper trail to explain how or why the projects were selected.

However, hundreds of pages of municipal documents obtained by the NDP through provincial freedom of information legislation, show that federal bureaucrats did in fact participate in local meetings about the legacy fund -- including the one held during the 2008 campaign.

The documents also show that municipal officials were told to direct all questions and send funding applications to Clement's constituency office, not the government.

"It's a complete twisting of the role of government and distribution of funds to make it appear as if this was something that was being given out of the back of Tony's car as his own personal gift to the riding," Angus said.

Former Liberal MP Marlene Jennings said the latest revelations strengthen her call for an RCMP investigation into the legacy fund.

"They created a completely parallel (funding and project selection) system in order to hide what they did," she said, and that suggests the government "knowingly and wilfully" broke the law.

Jennings asked the Mounties in mid-April to investigate whether the irregular way in which the legacy fund was set up violated the Appropriations Act and the Financial Administration Act. She was interviewed by three Mounties in June and received notification from the force on Thursday that its "review of the matter is continuing."

Clement has dismissed the police review as a Liberal "PR stunt." But Jennings said she's heartened by the fact that the RCMP is still looking into the affair, four months after her initial complaint.

"It means they're not treating it like it's a PR stunt," she said.

with files from CBC News